Educate Together is very proud of this three year plan. The planning process has taken an intensive 9-month period of work involving many people. Having been at the core of this work, I would like to personally thank the Board of Educate Together, the planning team, our consultants, Prospectus and all the people from inside and outside our network who have so generously given of their time and advice to make this plan a reality. One of the core values that have emerged from our recent governance review has been a value of generosity of spirit. This plan could not have been achieved if were not for the generosity of spirit of many people, I think they all know who they are, and I hope that they understand how much we appreciate – and hope to model â their on-going commitment to the future of our society.
This is an exciting, purposeful and forward- thinking plan. It is also a realistic plan born out of a detailed, sometimes almost forensic review of our operations and resources. It has been an arduous and rigorous review, which has used best-in-class modern planning methodologies. As a result, the process has thrown up major issues for us, for our supporters and for State policy. The document clarifies exactly what Educate Together stands for and what problem in Irish education the movement is determined to solve. That problem is clearly identified as the lack of choice in Irish education – the fact that in the vast majority of areas, families in Ireland do not have access to a school that based on the inclusive principles of the Educate Together Model and can only send their children to a school that is faith-based in ethos and management.
Educate Together is a movement that has been created by volunteers over the past 30 years in Ireland to address this lack of choice in our education system. The growing support for the movement as our society has changed has highlighted this need. Over the past 7 years, no less than 23 new Educate Together schools have been established, the capacity of the network has more than doubled and has become genuinely nation-wide. In the process, we have become one of the main providers of new schools in rapidly developing areas of population throughout the country.
Today, we are faced with escalating demand for places in our existing schools and for the establishment of new schools in approximately 50 areas of the country.
This demand, and the lack of State initiative in this area, raises a fundamental human rights issue for Irish society – a vital agenda item for 21st century Ireland. We cannot progress our social space, our education system or indeed any real concept of a knowledge society unless we ensure that all families can access a school in which their social, cultural or religious backgrounds are guaranteed equality of access and esteem.
An education system that â through lack of State initiative â introduces an element of compulsion in the area of personal identity â infringes on the intellectual rights that must be at the core of the process of education.
We believe that providing a balanced choice between faith-based schools and those providing the same guarantees of equality and respect as are built into the Educate Together Model is vital to the future of our society.
We calculate that to resolve this problem there is a need for 400 schools of this type â this is based on the modern criteria of access that sets a maximum a journey time 30minutes from home to school.
In today’s rapidly diversifying world in which issues between cultures and religious are becoming an every more sensitive and important, it is essential that our education systems model the same equality and respect that we urgently need in society as a whole. Indeed we believe that ensuring that children from the early age of 4 are comfortable with this diversity will offer them a positive advantage in the wider world of life and work that they and their children will inherit.
Over the past two years, committees of two UN Conventions and most recently the Council of Europe have issued recommendation to the government to act on this issue and it is still remarkable that there has been to-date no realistic response to this issue from the current administration.
With the publication of this plan we are unambiguously and unapologetically seeking support from all State and non-state funders and from the general public to solve this problem.
The document also clarifies exactly what is the Educate Together Model of school. The four legally binding principles of inclusion, child-centredness, co-educationalism and democratic management. To these we have clarified our unique approach to religious education that provides a comprehensive programme of religious education in school time, but leave classes of faith formation to be facilitated outside the compulsory school day. This minimizes the need for children to be segregated in school according to their faith and places the responsibility for faith formation on the family and religious institutions. Any model of values based schooling must ecapsulate these values in a discrete programme of teaching and the Educate Together model can only come to life with a programme of ethical education â the Learn Together Curriculum.
The document also clearly states that the need for diversity of provision of schools cannot be met by Educate Together alone, that this is societal need and that in order to progress, Educate Together is and must be actively working in partnership with other organisations, other educational providers, the State and non-State bodies.
The central judgment of the document is that unless Educate Together consolidates and improves it provides for its existing schools and achieves decisive change in the State supports for new schools, it will not be able to scale up to meet these increasing demands.
It follows from this that if Educate Together addresses this judgement and acts decisively to consolidate and strengthen the support it already gives its member schools and simultaneously campaign for decisive changes in the State process whereby new schools are opened, it will be able to address the rights of all parents in Ireland and will grasp an opportunity to make a contribution to the raising of standards in education overall.
There is today a debate on the role of the State in public services and education. This document and Educate Together unhesitatingly holds that the provision of, funding for and support for education for all children in the State is the responsibility of the State and should remain a core objective of State policy.
The document highlights specific policy changes that are necessary in order to address these objectives. These are the overhaul of the process of new school opening and in particular the urgent necessity for the State to ensure that permanent school buildings are available in communities when they are needed and for the introduction of an agreed and audited grant for school patrons to enable them to set up schools in a professional and responsible manner.
Turning to the detail of the plan:
The plan sets out 9 core objectives that can be met within its current income projections It then sets out a further 11 priority options – or objectives that can be addressed when the organisation achieves additional resources
The Nine core objectives are:-
1. Develop a full training programme for members of Educate Together school Boards of Management.
2. Strengthen Educate Together’s role in supporting the leadership and management of its schools.
3. Train all teachers in the Educate Together network in the ‘Learn Together’ ethical education curriculum.
4. Work with the Department of Education and Science and other partners to bring forward an efficient system of new primary school opening.
5. Pursue potential partnerships with other providers with the view to increasing the number of Educate Together Model schools.
6. Work with the Department of Education and Science and the Colleges of Education to introduce the ‘Learn Together’ ethical education curriculum as a formal element of all teacher education.
7. Provide appropriate and high quality administrative, logistical and other support services and functions for the Educate Together organisation.
8. Develop and implement focused and aligned communication, PR and lobbying strategies to enable the achievement of these objectives.
9. Develop and implement a robust fundraising strategy so that these objectives can be achieved. The plan also identifies a set of exciting priority options that can be achieved if and when additional funding becomes available to the organisation. These options are those programmes that will accelerate Educate Together’s progress to achieve its goals. We are actively seeking supporters and investors to assist us in developing these programmes.
10. Enhanced School Support Programme
11. Enhanced Ethical Curriculum Development
12. Ethos Assessment Tool for Schools.
13. Enhanced System of Primary School Opening
14. Piloting the Educate Together Ethos at Second-level
15. Develop Transformation Model for schools
16. Membership Promotion (expanding the network)
17. Pre-school and After-school Facilities.
18. Enhanced Advocacy & Lobbying Package
19. Enhanced Communications Package.
20. Research Programme.
We are already well into the implementation phase of the first year of the plan. And have already received significant support for one of our most important priority options, our efforts to pilot our model of education at second level. We are delighted with this early expression of support and look forward to increasing support for other elements of the strategy.
Today, we are delighted to launch this plan into the public domain and publicly set out our objectives and time-lines for open assessment and scrutiny. I hope that you will have a good look at the document and travel with us along this exciting road of educational reform and development.