20130523 YLT

DIGNAN EoinSports CRED schemes popular: Young Life and Times survey 2012
by Eoin DIGNAN for Northern Ireland Foundation
23 May 2013

The Young Life and Times Survey (YLT), released in full along with two research updates by ARK on Friday, May 24th, is aimed at 16 year-olds and oriented chiefly around attitudes to shared education and community relations, equality and diversity education (CRED). While young people have positive views on cross-community mixing and shared projects, recent flag protests have affected respondents’ assessments of progress.

Key findings were previewed at a seminar during Community Relations week on Thursday the 23rd and YLT celebrated its tenth birthday in anticipation of OFMDFM’s looming Shared Future document, released that same afternoon. The survey proved highly topical and Minister of Education John O’Dowd described YLT as “a hugely valuable resource for policymakers … It provides those with responsibility for formulating and delivering vital services for young people with an insight into how these services are being received and how successful they are.”

Underlying developments are encouraging. The survey’s findings suggest that although opportunities for cross-community mixing can be hard to find, they are enthusiastically received. Moreover, CRED schemes are showing tangible signs of positive outcomes that can help lay groundwork of support for a shared education future, one that seems increasingly real and desirable.

About the survey

YLT presents the views of 16 year-olds and is a sister survey to the Kids’ Life and Times Survey (KLT) for Primary 7 pupils and the Life and Times Survey (NILT) for adults. Shorter than the flagship NILT, YLT differs in eschewing face-to-face questioning, a method which runs the risk of social desirability bias. Rather, invitations were posted to respondents, who could choose to complete the form online, by returning a paper questionnaire or over the telephone. None of the 1,208 respondents opted to pick up their phone. The surveys share a common structure, which incorporates two core features: time-series modules and guest modules commissioned by interested outside organizations.

Changes over time

Opening the seminar, QUB Lecturer Dr Katrina Lloyd explored a decade of community relations feedback, explaining that the 2,003 responses highlighted a desire for cross-community relations. There has remained a high proportion of respondents desiring a mixed workplace (70-80%); a mixed neighbourhood (50-60%); and, though less popular, 50% would presently prefer to enrol their child in an integrated school.

Though young people typically feel part of a religious community, religious identity has steadily declined in importance, with 46% labelling it important, a decline of 14% from 2003. National identity’s significance has remained roughly constant at 60. Continued diminishing of Ulster identity among Protestants (2%) has dovetailed with a decisive move towards ‘British’, increasing by 15 points from 2011 to 62%. These latest results reverse a trend towards consolidating high levels of ‘Northern Irish’ identity and it has fallen 10 points to 2003 levels (33%) among Protestants as well as 8 points among persons of no religion, from 46% to 38%. ‘Northern Irish’ remains fairly constant among Catholics, wavering between 15 and 20%.

CRED schemes

The respondents contributed to optimism on the effectiveness of CRED activities. 70% of sampled teens had experienced CRED programs, 84% of whom had done so in school and 43% through youth groups. Attendees of integrated schools were most likely to access CRED activities and those attending Protestant schools least likely.

Overall, 77% felt more cross-community projects would improve relations and any reluctance stemmed primarily from feeling forced to get along immediately with new people. A further 55% of respondents would like more friends of different religions but lacked opportunities and 45% felt their local area lacked the requisite facilities. Sports schemes were popular, however, with around 60% sometimes or often socialising or playing sport with people from a different religious community. The popularity of sport was echoed in write-in comments by some respondents.

Respondents generally felt safe in leisure centres, significantly less so when attending events in schools housing another religious community. Feelings of safety plummeted with GAA clubs and Orange halls. Only 24 percent of Protestants felt a GAA club would be safe and 13% of Catholics thought likewise of an Orange hall. This differential was echoed by non-religious persons, 42% of whom considered an Orange hall safe.

Sexual orientation

On questions relating specifically to sexual orientation, 93% knew a person of lesbian, gay or bisexual orientation (LGB). This group was more ‘comfortable’ around LGB persons than those who were not personally familiar with anyone of this orientation (64% as compared to 24%). In total, 16% felt ‘uncomfortable’. Further, 44% of the sample were aware of at least once incidence of LGB verbal abuse by their friends, although only 12% admitted to ever doing it themselves.

Shared education

With regards to shared education, almost 1/5th of respondents had never been involved in sharing programmes of any kind but 71% had experienced shared education with pupils from a different religious background. P7 children surveyed in KLT were generally less enthusiastic than teenagers, but their actual experiences were similar to the 91% of 16 year-olds who stated they had enjoyed projects with pupils from other schools. 89% of teens who had shared projects with pupils from other schools thought sharing was a good idea, compared to 77% among those who had not.  There was greater divergence on support for shared lessons (supported by 76% and 57% respectively).

Religion did not pose a widespread obstacle to sharing. 82% said they would not mind at all if pupils from a different religion came to their school, a sentiment stronger among females (85%) than males (78%). Only 5% cited mixing with other religions as one of their two ‘bad things about sharing’, although 1 in 5 expressed concern over ‘mixing with people who are very different from me’. This is a concern that CRED and sharing ought to be well-placed to alleviate. On the best aspects of sharing, making new friends (65%) was a close second to participating in interesting projects (68%).

Mixed-gender sharing projects were greeted most favourably, irrespective of sex. The least popular prospect was hosting projects with special needs schools, as only 73% of males would not mind coupled with 83% of females. 18% admitted to minding a little. On this basis, themes of disability awareness, respect and inclusion may warrant stronger incorporation into shared education programmes and CRED. Promoting positive attitudes towards disabled persons was, however, one of the most effectively targeted groups based on CRED feedback.

Building on the results

Topics covered by this year’s study match the current social policy climate, as evidenced by post-presentation questions to Minister John O’Dowd. These sought assurances on the continuation of CRED within Shared Future, progress towards tackling bullying of LGB persons and methods of addressing shared history narratives during this ‘decade of centenaries’ within formal and non-formal education. Further, Thursday evening’s Question Time featured attitudes to sexual orientation and same-sex marriage lag in Northern Ireland.

O’Dowd, whose Ministerial Advisory Group outlined 20 recommendations for shared education in April, felt the survey would contribute to a “sensible and mature debate”, adding, “I trust that you will find the results of the 2012 survey as beneficial in your work as I can assure you my Department will.” They have already been incorporated into a NICCY report on shared education. By way of a parting gift, the survey directors announced that a merged Teaching Dataset of NILT with YLTS was imminent and that a book analysing the period 2003-2012’s full findings will be published in early 2014.

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