Wednesday 21 March 2018

In My Opinion: Parents will have a more active role in how schools adapt to changes

Sean Cottrell

Considering the critical role parents play in the lives of their children and how that role is underpinned by the Constitution, parents collectively have had relatively little influence in shaping primary education.

For decades, principals and teachers have been suspicious of enthusiastic parents or parent associations and it was not unusual for schools to have a closed-door policy when it came to parental relationships.

While there have been some examples of groups of parents campaigning for specific causes, the 'ordinary decent parent' has been largely silent and compliant with the status quo.

The status quo is no longer an option.

A number of coinciding factors may create a tipping point that will lead to greater influence by parents nationally.

An Irish Primary Principals' Network (IPPN) study of 500 boards of management found that parents are sceptical of the boards' roles.

Many parents feel they are only there to make up the numbers and excluded from decision-making.

Perhaps the most significant event that will place parents centre-stage is the national debate on school patronage and the obligation to provide a more inclusive and practical approach to dealing with diversity.

Parents will, for the first time, be given a major say in how schools will adapt to change.

Evidence suggests that there is growing demand for 'secular' schools run by the State or local authority. However, the same research shows that parents want teachers to prepare their children for religious sacraments.

Is this simply a matter of convenience?

Perhaps the paradox is a side-effect of how teachers and clergy have unintentionally 'spoiled' parents for generations.

For many years, parish clergy came into schools to bless throats, hand out miraculous medals and hear confession.

This was done with the best intentions -- but perhaps not the intended results.

Parents were bypassed in decision-making terms and reduced to spectators at their child's confirmation.

With parents at such a remove, who is teaching religion to 21st century children?

Although not yet widespread, anecdotally the number of teachers who are uncomfortable about teaching religion is growing.

From any perspective, it is not a good idea to require such teachers to teach anyone religion, not least to children.

This challenge is compounded by the rapid decline in clergy able to provide a chaplaincy role in visiting classrooms.

These changes may well lead to a tipping point where clergy and parents who have a faith conviction will decide to be pro-active in dealing with the reality of 21st century society.

Maybe one positive consequence of dramatic societal change will be a direct involvement of parents in the moral and spiritual development of their children.

Sean Cottrell is director of the Irish Primary Principals' Network

Irish Independent

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