2024 Educate Together AGM delegates warmly welcomes the first Catholic school in the state to transfer to equality-based patronage

Delegates attending the 2024 Educate Together Annual General Meeting at Broombridge Educate Together National School on Saturday 11 May 2024 heard of significant progress, as well as challenges, for Ireland’s equality-based school movement.  

At the event, delegates also warmly welcomed the newest national school to join the school network. Paradise Place ETNS, formerly St Mary’s Primary School – the very first Catholic primary school in the state to change to Educate Together patronage – becomes the 97th Educate Together national school, taking the total number of Educate Together schools at primary and second-level to 118. 

This transfer came about as part of the Government’s ongoing plan to support the transfer of schools from religious to multi-denominational patronage where demand exists for such a change. Speaking about the transfer, Paradise Place ETNS school principal Éadaoin Kelly recently said:   

 “We are pleased to be making this transition to Educate Together patronage. As a school, we embrace the rich diversity of our community. The children are at the centre of all our work, and we are responsive to their needs. Through the reconfiguration process, our school community recognised that equality-based patronage is the best fit for the diverse families we serve. We will continue our inclusive, restorative and supportive practice as an Educate Together school and look forward to sharing and learning with and from other schools in the network.” 

Patronage transfers are becoming increasingly important as a means of meeting demand; education in Ireland continues to be dominated by religiously-managed schools, with 90% of all primary schools still having Catholic patronage, despite declining numbers of people identifying as Catholic in the country. 

Stronger Together 

Addressing AGM delegates, Educate Together’s CEO Emer Nowlan outlined the national office’s progress on advancing Stronger Together, the organisation’s strategic plan, as outlined in the 2023 Annual Report:    

  • Educate Together worked effectively as a charity, a school patron and management body, and a membership organisation throughout 2023, achieving all the company’s core objectives and targets, and providing support and representation for our growing network of schools. 
  • By the end of 2023, there were 40,350 children and young people accessing equality-based education in 117 Educate Together schools around the country (96 primary and 21 second-level). This represents an increase of 2,492 students from 2022. The Educate Together national office has opened 49 schools over the past ten years.  
  • 2023 was a good year for Educate Together schools moving into permanent accommodation, with the completion and handover of five exceptional school buildings during the year in Cork, Dublin and Limerick. Students in Douglas Rochestown ETNS, Dublin 7 ETNS, Stapolin ETNS, Limerick ETSS, and Stepaside ETSS, are now learning in state-of-the-art school buildings. Although there are still schools facing considerable challenges in temporary accommodation, the number of Educate Together schools in this situation reduced from 50 at the beginning of 2022 to 40 at the end of 2023. 

2023 saw the publication of the evaluation of Educate Together’s successful Nurture Schools project. This showed how this cost-effective intervention has had positive impacts for the most vulnerable students, keeping them in school and getting them back on track with their learning. The independent evaluation found that students receiving nurture intervention in Educate Together schools showed more confidence, less anxiety, and better emotional skills and well-being. At the AGM, Educate Together’s CEO called for systemic supports for the Nurture approach, so that it can be made available to schools nationwide. 

Educate Together’s 2023 Annual Report is now available to view online here.  

Democracy in action  

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 the equality-based network for the coming year. This year’s AGM, which was attended by representatives of Educate Together’s primary and second-level schools, was marked by lively engagement, debate and decision-making. 

Following workshops on current issues, delegates debated policy motions on a range of issues, including supports for schools, inclusion of students with additional needs, the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement, school admissions policies and the curriculum.  

The AGM saw a number of changes to organisation’s Board of Directors. Niamh Cullen, principal of Grace Park ETNS, was elected Vice Chairperson. Deirdre Duffy, John Collier and Doris Abuchi-Ogbonda were re-elected, and the board welcomed new members Síle Larkin and Paul Knox. Richard (Dick) Woulfe and Theresa Burke, whose terms were finishing, were thanked for their valued contributions on the board. 

Delegates also thanked and paid tribute to five Educate Together school principals who retired during the year, for their contribution to equality-based education in Ireland.  

Leading on student participation 

At the afternoon public session of the AGM, Dr Shivaun O’Brien, Associate Professor in Dublin City University’s Institute of Education, presented recent research which explored student participation in Educate Together schools. The research found that that Educate Together pupils report high levels of participation across each of the areas; in the classroom, outside of the classroom, and in decision-making at the whole school level.

Student participation was very much in evidence at the event, with senior cycle students Calixto and Shannon reporting to delegates and guests on their recent second-level Empathy and Solidarity in Action event. This student-organised and student-led event, spread across two campuses in Limerick ETSS and Hansfield ETSS, saw 200 students from 21 second-level schools meet to discuss their chosen theme of ‘Empathy and Solidarity in Action‘.

Pupils from Broombridge ETNS wowed the delegates with a very special performance of music, song and dance.