Community national schools committed to inclusion and equality
In my opinion by Michael Moriarty
The recent announcement by Minister Richard Bruton about his commitment to increase significantly the number of multidenominational schools across the country, is very welcome. To date, for various reasons, the community national school model has not been in the public eye. This is all about to change, now that these schools, having been piloted from 2008, will officially come under the patronage of the Education and Training Boards (ETBs) from September 2016.
In the areas where the current community national schools are located, they have developed an outstanding reputation; many in more urban areas are completely oversubscribed. Their open enrolment policies, which give equal, non-selective, access to children of all backgrounds, abilities, faiths, are appreciated by all members of the communities they serve. These schools are meeting the needs of an extremely diverse range of families, who choose them for their unique ethos.
At the heart of the ethos of community national schools is a commitment to excellence in education, inclusion, and the valuing of every member of the school community. Although parents can be assured that the curriculum is the same in all primary schools, regardless of school type, community national schools deliver the curriculum in the most innovative ways, appropriate to preparing children for their futures in the 21st century.
Community national schools are committed to a spirit of inclusion and equality, where each child and member of the school community is valued and treated with dignity and respect. They recognise and celebrate the diversity which exists in the community. They encourage children to have a pride in what makes them different and instil in them a belief that difference, when valued and respected, gives strength and vibrancy to the whole school community.
Children are taught these values explicitly throughout the entire curriculum and they are also reflected in all of the schools' policies and practices. As State-funded, and publicly owned and accountable schools, they play a key role in developing citizens who are capable of contributing positively to society in the future.
Each part of a child's identity is acknowledged and catered for by the school, including their religious identity. Supporting this is the multi-belief programme called Goodness Me, Goodness You (GMGY).
This is a story-based programme which is taught through the use of an interactive whiteboard. Each lesson lasts one week and has a specific theme. Parents are recognised as the primary educators of their children and therefore they play a key role in the development of this aspect of their child's identity.
Each week, teachers inform parents of what theme they are discussing in school and ask them to discuss this theme with their children from their own religious/belief perspective. During the lessons, children share their understanding and experiences of the theme that they have discussed at home. This promotes inter-belief dialogue among the children and their teacher.
The GMGY programme has the flexibility to meet the needs of the communities each school serves, which can vary greatly. Community national schools are committed to catering to children of all faiths and beliefs within the school day, and therefore parents can request the school to provide more Belief-Specific Teaching (BST) in relation to their particular faiths or beliefs (for example many Catholic parents request some work to be done around the sacraments).
Each school makes every effort to meet the needs of the school community through a consultation process with parents and local religious/belief leaders. These efforts, although ambitious, are deeply appreciated by, not just the parents, but the entire community.
Michael Moriarty is general secretary Education and Training Boards Ireland