Tina Stallard (Lucan ETNS)
After 16 years on the Board of Management in Lucan Educate Together, the last 12 years of which were as Chairperson, I decided in August this year to step down from my role. I thought about my time on the Board and the role of the Board itself over the years. At a practical level the Board is a structure required by the Department, charged with legal responsibilities, acting as employer and responsible for all manner of practical school management issues. In our schools though Boards are so much more – they are a key element of how our schools are democratically-run and give real opportunities for parental participation in the running of our schools. Having the opportunity to be a member of the Board was always a privilege for me – we shouldn’t take it lightly or for granted that we can participate in this way in shaping our schools and the education system for our children.
Neither should we be complacent and think that as we are an Educate Together school that we are automatically a democratically-run school. With all the pressures in the education system currently it would be tempting to pay lip service to democracy in our schools. Ensuring we are democratically-run takes effort, is challenging and requires us to recognise and respect roles & boundaries. So just as with all Educate Together ethos principles we must constantly check our practice and ensure that we are genuinely a democratically-run school.
Our ethos says ‘We run schools on a democratic basis, encouraging active participation by parents and students in the daily life of the school whilst positively affirming the professional role of the teachers.’ We believe school communities – students, parents and staff, should all have a voice in how our schools are run. So how do we encourage active participation of parents and students? What processes and structures do we have in place to support this? Are the processes for forming our Boards, Student Councils and Parent Teacher Associations genuinely democratic themselves? Are we democratic in how we make decisions and in ensuring that everyone in our school community has an opportunity to contribute and have their voice heard?
With new Boards of Management to come into being in December the focus will be on finding people to ‘join our Boards’. This is always a challenge and now, amidst the current staffing crisis in schools and the general decline in volunteering, why would anyone think of joining a Board for a 4-year term? The answer is simple – if as a parent you want your child to be educated in the Educate Together sector, where you value our ethos, think of the privilege of being able to contribute to, and participate in shaping our schools for the benefit of all our children.
And for schools looking for people to ‘join our boards’ in December? Maybe it’s a good opportunity to stop and take stock – are we forming our Boards because we have to satisfy the Department’s requirements, or are we recognising this for the unique and privileged opportunity it is to build a truly democratically-run school, and to contribute to the wider democratic processes in the Educate Together network?
The formation of new Boards this year gives us all the opportunity to revitalise democracy in our schools and in our network and an opportunity to reflect a lived ethos – it’s a great opportunity to build on work already done and to participate in a unique way in shaping the education experience for our children. A unique, privileged opportunity not to be missed!