Sandra’s Story

Real democracy in action in Educate Together schools

Sandra Irwin-Gowran, Educate Together’s Education & Support Programme Manager, reflects on the democratic nature of Educate Together schools

“Many parents have been heavily involved in the development of their Educate Together school and are deeply invested in its success. In many cases, families have campaigned long and hard for the opportunity of a ‘democratically-run’ school and this commitment often continues once the school opens and begins to establish itself in the community.

Parents are not only members of Boards of Management and Parent Associations but are recognised as key partners in the education of their children. Parents are encouraged to visit the school, to share their skills with both the children and staff. They are welcome to organise faith formation classes for their religious group after school hours, using school facilities. These activities are welcomed but not obligatory and each family is free to decide their own level of participation.

At second-level, Educate Together students are welcomed on Boards of Management and to participate in shaping the policy of their schools. Such engagement is not seen as an optional extra, but a core part of the students engagement with the subject, Ethical Education which is taught in the place of religious education in all Educate Together schools. Serving on a Board is just one example of how students are encouraged to develop skills in communication, reasoning, negotiation, organisation and representation as well as increasing a young person’s confidence in working with other students and adults.

But school Boardrooms are not the only places where democracy in action gets to flourish, sometimes the places that matter most to children are the places they play and gather. One such example is where children from Bray School Project planned and designed their school yard in some cases against a backdrop of shaking heads and mutterings from staff members. The children prevailed and the result was the transformation of an expanse of yard where collisions and falls were once common to a space that had places to sit, hang out and gather that the children now felt a real ownership of.

The representation of students on Boards of Management started with the first Educate Together second-level schools in 2014, which was a somewhat controversial step at the time. It is heartening now to see the new Parent and Student Charter will involve parents and students more decisively in the work of schools. The results can only serve to support democracy in action; more confident young people capable of and committed to creating positive change in their school and by extension in society.”

Real stories from the Educate Together community

Educate Together’s schools mean so much to the lives of the children and young people who attend them, and to the communities that they are a part of. You can read, watch and listen to real stories from the students, staff and families involved in the Educate Together school movement on this page and at the links above. Do you have an experience from an Educate Together school which you would like to share? Share your story: