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An Educate Together school in Cabra. Eamonn Farrell/

Lynn Ruane We should all support choice in education

Parents need to have a choice over where they send their children to school, writes Lynn Ruane.

CAMPAIGNS FOR SCHOOL patronage requires resources and time just like any other election or referendum. Engaging families in the decision-making of a community’s access to education is, like every other democratic process, a great thing.

But democracy, in its purest sense, should have consensus and equality as its foundation. To achieve this can take a hell of a lot of time – something an underdog doesn’t always have.

Like all campaigns there will be some groups, like the campaign for the patronage of an Educate Together second-level school for Citywest and Saggart, that will be starting from a much more difficult position.

That starting point may be grounded in equality, diversity and choice but it also lacks the resources it would require to engage the huge amount families across the Tallaght, Rathcoole and Newcastle school districts.

A group of local parents, who have been campaigning for a second-level school for over five years in Citywest and Saggart, are now campaigning for the families of those communities have choice when it comes secondary school. 

On a recent visit to the Educate Together primary school, I was excited for the possible future of education in Ireland.

Schools that are equality based, co-educational, student-centred and democratically run, with both child and family involvement, is a place where difference can be encouraged and where diversity can flourish.

After sitting down with the student council it was clear to see how well informed the children where on the running of their school and they confidently talked me through the climate projects they were working on. 

Learning how to advocate for yourself and others is something I think most primary schools do strive to achieve. But these aspirations can often be stifled as students progress to a much busier school life at second level.

Educate Together

The fact that Educate Together schools are a school for all can increase the potential for these aspirations to be achieved. This is because equality, choice and diversity benefits us all.

Instead of punishments like lines or detention, many Educate Together secondary schools have chosen to use ‘restorative practice’ in school, empowering pupils in problem solving, reasoning and conflict resolution.

This practice not only inspires confidence for navigating today’s world but allows children equal participation in their education experience.

But parents had to mobilise themselves almost six years ago to start campaigning for a second level school for the area. 

Those parents campaigning for an Educate Together second-level school told me that they badgered the Department of Education with letters and artwork from the kids year after year.

In April 2018 there was an announcement of school allocations – the parents hard-fought campaign had finally come to fruition.

There is understandably frustration now, as the parents involved in a six-year campaign for a secondary school are now in another battle over the patronage of that school.

The odds are stacked in favour of government statutory bodies like the Education and Training Board.

The board employs full-time public servants whereas those campaigning for an Educate Together school are full-time working people who want the best for their children and the whole community, but have to try achieve this outside of their ordinary working hours.

Currently the board has several second-level schools in the two schools districts and there is a genuine need and demand for an Educate Together school in the area.

If proportional representation isn’t voted for, people are left with the old problem of travelling far and wide to access an Educate Together school.

This is due in no small way to the success of Educate Together schools. 

In Dublin, Educate Together has nine secondary schools. They only have a total of 12 nationally. The Education and Training Board has over double the national number in Dublin alone.

There is a clear need for greater choice at second level. Tallaght is a huge community with a diverse and growing population.

Within the two school districts involved in the school patronage campaign there are no Educate Together second-level schools. The Education and Training Board have Mount Seskin Secondary school beside the Belfry Estate in Citywest, Kingswood Community College, Coláiste de hÍde in Tallaght and Adamstown Community College.

So they have four schools already in the two relevant school districts, with several in the bordering school districts.

When it comes to having their “needs met”, parents of children who favour the board have choice and are having their needs met. Those in favour of Educate Together are not.

This month, and until 4 October, you can vote on the patronage of the new secondary school if you live in the school districts. 

Lynn Ruane is an independent senator.

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