Saturday 24 August 2019

Educate Together taking direct action in sex education primary school row as parents stage protest

Parents protesting at Castleknock Educate Together National School this evening
Parents protesting at Castleknock Educate Together National School this evening
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

EDUCATE Together is taking direct action in the row over relationships and sexuality education (RSE) at one of its primary schools.

The multi-denominational patron body is writing to all its schools to ask them to ensure that RSE is delivered in a way that is consistent with its ethos and free from religious bias.

It is a response to a controversy at Castleknock Educate Together National School (CETNS), which has invited the Catholic marriage agency, Accord, to talk to fifth and sixth class pupils about relationships and sex education.

It is the second successive year that a row has erupted between the school and parents over a similar invitation to Accord.

Educate Together issued a statement shortly before a parents’ protest went ahead outside the school this evening.

The protest was organised to coincide with an Accord information event for parents, which was cancelled yesterday, but the protest went ahead anyway.

In a letter to parents on Monday night, school principal  Aedín Ní Thuathail, in her capacity as secretary of the school board of management, said the parents’ information event was being deferred to allow the board to consider an alternative option for delivery of the classes, which had emerged since the invitation was issued to Accord.

In its statement, Educate Together said it “would like to stress that the contracting of external agencies by a school is a matter for the board of management of an individual school.”

It added: “Educate Together as a school patron does not have the authority to require schools to deliver the RSE programme in any specific way, unless a motion is passed by the member schools of Educate Together at an annual general meeting.

 “However, Educate Together believes that it is not appropriate for a religious-run organisation to deliver RSE in the context of an equality-based Educate Together school.

“To this end, Educate Together will be writing to all schools under its patronage to ask them to ensure that relationships and sexuality education is delivered in a way that is consistent with its ethos and free from religious bias”.

The statement noted that parents in a school, which was not named but is taken to be CETNS, had recently been in touch with its national office on this issue.

“Educate together takes this issue very seriously. The national office is currently looking at all options in its capacity as a school patron to support the school community involved.”

Earlier this year, the CETNS parent teacher association wrote to the school principal saying it was difficult to see how an organisation “funded by the Catholic Church and with a clear religious ethos could ever have been deemed ‘fit for purpose’ to deliver the RSE programme in an Educate Together school".

The move to go ahead with the invitation infuriated some parents, who organised a petition, headed "Opposing Accord teaching RSE in Castleknock ET, and then organised the protest.

An email seeking support for the protest and signed by parent Graeme Carter, stated: “This will affect all our children in the long run, so it's not just for 5th and 6th class parents! My daughter is in Junior Infants, for example, but I'm not willing to just wait until she is directly impacted by this.

It adds: “This is about the parents of children making their voices heard within the school, and letting both the board and Educate Together know that secular instruction, in line with their stated ethos, is what we want for our children. If you don't speak, nobody will speak for you.”

In the past year, the 450-pupil school also came in for some criticism from Department of Education inspectors who identified a “serious breakdown of trust” in key relationships in the school.

Inspectors found breakdowns of trust between the board and the parent-teacher association, the board and the in-school leadership team as well as within the in-school leadership team.

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