Educate Together welcomes the efforts of the Minister to standardise the School Year under the current round of social partnership negotiations “Sustaining Progress”. Such standardisation is helpful to the vast majority of parents who are often juggling work and child-rearing commitments.
During last summer, Educate Together participated in the discussions on the Standardisation of the School Year with the Department, the teacher’s unions and other national patronage bodies. These discussions quickly highlighted the difficulties created by enforcing a strictly standardised school year. These difficulties are specifically encountered by schools that are not under the authority of the majority religious community in Ireland. These schools have major difficulties in observing specifically Catholic religious holidays.
For instance, all partners recognised that it is unacceptable to require a Jewish school to remain open during Jewish sacred days such as the Passover or a Moslem school to open on Eid, the feast at the end of Ramadan. It was also agreed that schools such as Educate Together schools could not be compelled to observe specific religious feasts in violation of their obligation to guarantee families and children equality of esteem irrespective of their religious backgrounds.
As a result of these concerns it was agreed that schools should be able to close on specific days as dictated by “religious observance” and in addition should have “some limited flexibility” to close on other days as long as the length of the school year was fully respected. The circular 19/03 states that this flexibility cannot be used to
“extend the periods set out… in respect of the 2003/4 mid-term and Christmas and Easter breaks”.
In relation to the current end of year holidays, many Educate Together communities object to the start and finish dates being set in such a way as to prevent schools closing on the natural end of week of December 19th and re-opening on the natural beginning of the week of January 5th. Our communities take the view that the only reason for the change is to facilitate schools remaining closed on the Christian festival of the Epiphany on January 6th and as such they feel obliged to revert to their traditional practice of setting the seasonal closure and opening on bounds of a natural week. These communities have decided to avail of the flexibility mentioned in the circular and have adjusted their closing and opening dates whilst strictly ensuring that they do not extend the period. These decisions have involved extensive consultation with staff and parents and were agreed and published some months ago. This was done out of concern that both children, staff and parents could properly plan for the holidays.
It is with regret that we note that the advertisement that has been placed by the Minister of Education and Science in today’s newspapers has misrepresented the agreement set out in Circular 19/03 in stating that
“schools may not extend OR MODIFY the agreed period.”
This has caused considerable concern in our school communities especially as it has been issued just two days before some of our schools are scheduled to close. This misrepresentation has created exactly the type of stress and difficulty that the negotiations on school standardisation were intended to avoid. We would like to state that it is Educate Together’s understanding that regulations governing national schools are issued in the form of Departmental Circulars and that in this case the terms set out in Circular 19/03 still apply.