Educate Together Blog
No Child An Outsider
- 25 May 2015
Educate Together may change the terminology of its Charter but its principles of inclusion and equality remain the same. Here Paul Rowe, CEO, explains why Educate Together will replace the term 'multi-denominational' with 'equality-based'.
Every year, the Educate Together AGM is a forum for healthy debate and intense discussion on the issues that effect the many and various members of the Educate Together school community. Ranging from the minutiae of membership fees to broader issues of ethos and policy, our members never fail to challenge assumptions and assert their needs in consultation with each other and the organisation’s Board of Directors. Last year, a motion was passed to reconsider the use of the term ‘multi-denominational’ in the Educate Together Charter - the bedrock of Educate Together’s ethos. In the subsequent 12 months, consultations were carried out by a working group to establish whether or not there could be an alternative description better suited to the changing landscape of Irish education and society.
For years now, there has been a growing and healthy discussion amongst Educate Together’s stakeholders on the wording of the core principles in the organisation’s legal documents. Perhaps the most important is the Educate Together Charter which was formulated in 1990 to codify Educate Together’s recognition of its fundamental principles of human rights and religious rights specific to the Irish situation. It commits the organisation to support the establishment of schools which are: co-educational; child-centred, democratically run and multi-denominational i.e. all children having equal rights of access to the school, and children of all social, cultural and religious backgrounds being equally respected.
At the time that the Charter was drafted, the Department of Education and Skills only recognised ‘denominational’ or ‘multi-denominational’ as viable models of patronage for Irish schools. But right from the outset, the use of the term ‘multi-denominational’ required very careful use and handling. It was originally chosen to ensure Department of Education approval of the school projects and to include as wide grouping of religious minded parents as possible.
1978: Educate Together supporters in Dalkey, Co. Dublin
Aware of the term’s potential ambiguity, the drafters of the Charter insisted that wherever it was used it had to be specifically defined as in the Charter. i.e. “i.e. all children having equal rights of access to the school, and children of all social, cultural and religious backgrounds being equally respected.”
For 25 years, this stance served the organisation extremely well. It enabled Educate Together schools to operate within all State regulations whilst remaining true to their fundamental commitment to equality and individual rights. However, in recent times divergence between Educate Together’s formulation and the dictionary definition of the term has become more pronounced: in the Oxford English Dictionary “denomination” is defined as: “a recognised autonomous branch of the Christian Church” or “a group or branch of any religion”.
At different points in Educate Together’s history, ‘multi-denominational’ has been opposed by families, teachers and pupils who do not identify themselves in religious terms. The working group established in 2014 to consider the wording of the Charter found that the use of the word ‘multi denominational' implicitly suggests that a higher value is placed upon a person who is identified with a particular faith or denomination. It also subtly implies that a person should be able to identify themselves with a label defined from a religious standpoint. From the outset, our organisations have had to stress that this definition is intended to mean that “No child is an outsider” - and that this emphatically includes children of no faith.
In the past year, it has been noted that considerable confusion is being caused by our definitions. The UN, to which Educate Together appealed in 2005, has urged the Irish State to increase the availability of multi-denominational and non-denominational schools. None of these terms are defined in the UN documentation and have been subject to wide differences in definition in the Irish media. More recently, there have been calls for the availability of secular schools, again without a clear definition.
Furthermore, when Educate Together started to grapple with the issues involved in setting up schools in the UK, it quickly became clear that the use of the term “multi-denominational” gave a strong religious focus that was very confusing to parents, teachers and general public. The Educate Together Academy Trust has changed this term to “Equality-based” in all its literature and often describes itself alternatively as “equality and human-rights based”. It has also significantly increased references to non- religious life-stances in its documents including the UK edition of the Learn Together curriculum.
During the government-commissioned Forum on Patronage and Pluralism which began in 2011, the Department of Education and Skills stated that there was no longer any impediment to the recognition of a “non-denominational” school. In practice, over recent years, the organisation has quietly moved to use language that is more inclusive of those who do not identify themselves in religious terms. Educate Together schools are schools that deliver equality of access and esteem to children, irrespective of their social, cultural or religious background. This is a compelling human rights and equality standard and the label we use to identify ourselves should reflect this. For this reason, Educate Together will now work with legal advisors to change the term ‘multi-denominational’ to ‘equality-based’ in its Memorandum and Articles of Association.
We hope that parents, teachers, children and everybody in Educate Together school communities throughout the country will join us in celebrating this clarification of an ethos that has always been and will remain inclusive, and is committed to ensuring that 'No Child an Outsider'.
2015: Educate Together students in Tralee, Co. Kerry