Educate Together CEO calls for a Citizens Assembly on Education

Delegates attending Educate Together’s 2021 Annual General Meeting (AGM) on Saturday 8 May 2021 heard of significant progress for Irelands equality-based school movement in what’s been an exceptional and challenging year for our school communities, for the wider education system and for whole of Irish society 

The AGM, attended by representatives of Educate Togethers primary and second-level schools, was marked by lively engagement, debate and decision-making. For the second time in the organisations 40year history, the meeting took place on an online platform.Chairperson Jen Cummins expressed the hope that the organisation’s next general meeting could again take place in person and in an Educate Together school building should it be deemed safe to do so. 

Educate Together is a democratic organisation whose policy direction is set by its membership. Member schools propose and vote on motions and policies that shape the direction of equality-based network for the coming year.  

Motions passed at this AGM instructed Educate Together to continue to engage with the Department of Education regarding the need for increased investment in supports for children with additional needs. A motion to adopt Educate Together’s agreed Ethos Quality Standards and Statements of Effective Practicewas also unanimously agreed by members. This will aid our schools to strengthen how they implement the fundamental equality-based approach to teaching and learning which is core to Educate Together. 

Delegates also debated motions on admissions policies, supports for school leadership, school insurance costs and supports for schools and start-up groups.  

Emma Lane-Spollen was appointed as Educate Together’s new Vice-chairperson. Danny Haskins, Matt Wallen, Doris Abuchi-Ogbonda and Siobhan Mortell were all re-elected to the board.  

Chairperson Jennifer Cummins thanked Educate Together school staff, members, directors and volunteers for the work they do in Educate Together schools nationwide and for the national organisation. She also thanked Danny Haskins for his service as Vice-chairperson on the board.  

Speaking at todays AGM, Educate Together CEO Emer Nowlan noted the huge oversubscription of Educate Together schools, and the need to provide more school places to meet that demand.  

There are still five whole counties in Ireland where parents have no choice but to send their children to religiousethos primary schools and the pace of change is far too slowA national debate along the lines of a Citizens Assembly is needed to break the log-jam preventing schools from being opened or transferred in areas where the population is not growing; a clear government strategy to increase equality-based provision is long overdue. 

She also stressed the need for other systemic improvements. Planning systems for new schools need to be reviewed to reduce time schools spend in expensive temporary accommodation, and additional supports are required for principals in new and developing schools. A major focus for Educate Together member schools at today’s AGM was the need for more and better resources for children with additional needs. Emer said:   

As a society, we need to be more realistic about the supports required to properly include children with all abilities and from all backgrounds in all schoolsMotions passed by our members today reflect the huge pressure placed on students, families and school staff when these supports are not provided. We are committed to engaging with the Department of Education and other partners to secure the resources needed for schools, and for new and developing schools in particular, so that every student can be included and reach their full potential in their local school. 

The meeting noted the significant progress made by Educate Together throughout 2020. The Chair and CEO highlighted a number of achievements:    

  • Demand for equality-based schools continues to grow unabated. Educate Together opened five new schools in 2020 in Dublin and Cork and supported three successful campaigns for Educate Together schools which will open in 2021 in Dublin and Wexford. 
  • There are now 33,006 pupils accessing equality-based education in 114 Educate Together schools; 95 primary schools and 19 second-level schools.  
  • The Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) published research on Educate Together second-level schools, which demonstrated the successful delivery of the Educate Together’s equality-based model, with a focus on positive relationships, promotion of active citizenship, as well as student-centred and active learning approaches.
  • Educate Together launched the Nurture Schools’ programme in 2020. This is an exciting initiative that is highly innovative in the Irish context. The concept of nurture in education recognises that students’ wellbeing is inextricably linked to their engagement with school and resulting academic outcomes. 

A detailed report on Educate Together’s activities in 2020 can be read here