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Ireland in Schools

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Northern Ireland
 
 
Challenges of teaching about conflict in Northern Ireland at GCSE

1. Controversial issue

  • Long & bitter conflict
  • At least four parties involved

Nationalists & Unionists in Northern Ireland; Westminster & Dublin governments

  • Two of the parties (Nationalists & Unionists) bitterly divided
  • One party (Westminster) often thinks it is above the conflict - ‘honest broker’.

2. Sensitive issue - ‘too close to home’

  • Students of Irish descent
  • Students with relatives serving in the British forces in Northern Ireland.

3. Attitudes to Northern Ireland

  • Indifference/hostility/lack of empathy
  • Fluctuating headlines.

4. Curriculum

  • Many students' first encounter with Ireland is Northern Ireland conflict at GCSE.

 

Nottingham teachers's positive response

Ireland in Schools added an Irish dimension to an international conference of teacher-trainers on teaching controversial and sensitive issues in History.

The conference was organised by the History Teacher Education Network and held at the School of Education, University of Nottingham, 11-13 July 2005.

To much acclaim, Anita Linden (Ashfield School), Marcella Gillespie (Nottingham Emmanuel School) and Alex Woollard (Tuxford School) outlined the successful attempts of History teachers in a group of Nottingham secondary schools associated with the School of Education, University of Nottingham, to address the challenges associated with teaching and learning about conflict in Northern Ireland at GCSE.

With the help of Ireland in Schools, this group is developed and shared cross-curricular teaching and learning strategies and materials to

  1. help students understand questions of political violence and entrenched political positions through poetry, eye-witness accounts, murals, music, novels and the art of 'the troubles’ and
  2. give students an historical perspective on the conflict by developing an Irish pathway through the Key Stage 3 curriculum.

There was a tantalising glimpse of imaginative work about to be done on partisan songs and the art of 'the troubles', but the highlight of the presentation was involving the participants in tasks on some key resources in order to stimulate discussion of the issues involved in teaching about conflict in Northern Ireland and the use of such resources in the classroom.

First, they responded imaginatively when asked to predict the third and final stanza of Patrick Fiacc's poem 'Enemy Encounter' about an Irishman coming across a British soldier in Northern Ireland.
Secondly, much pen-chewing and imaginative speculation accompanied the sorting of murals into loyalist and republican and the attempts to identify the differences and similarities between the sorted sets, with the aid of a simple grid focussing attention on the use of colour, images/symbols, historical references, personalities and language.
Finally, they debated what the Daniel MacLise's ravishing painting, The Marriage of Strongbow and Aoife, said about the Norman intervention in Ireland.