Parting Words

Fionnuala Ward, Education Officer with Educate Together up to August 2021.

I took a career break in 2008. My plan was to do a little substitute work and drink a lot of cappuccinos, preferably around 11.00, with no pressure to go anywhere or do anything.

Someone told me about a part-time job that Educate Together was advertising. Something to do with the Colleges of Education. It was only one or two days a week and sounded interesting, really interesting. The part-time nature of it morphed into full-time and ultimately a secondment.  Thirteen years later, I now know I was right.

The job was interesting and as it turns out, a lot of fun.

But first things first.

Some things to get off my chest. We have 95 primary schools out of roughly 3,000. There’s plenty of demand out there from both parents and teachers but next to no political will. The status quo is a tough nut to crack and no government has had the courage to grab the education system by the scruff of the neck and initiate some real, lasting change.

And as for the Colleges of Education? There are people there who’ve been stalwart supporters down through the years and I’d really like to acknowledge Dr Patricia Kieran in Mary Immaculate College, Dr Barbara O’Toole and Dr Aiveen Mullaly in Marino Institute of Education, Dr Anne Lodge, CICE, (now DCU), Seamie O’Neill in Froebel Department of Primary and Early Childhood Education and Dr Jones Irwin and Dr Philomena Donnelly, DCU and formerly DCU. And a special shout-out to my brilliant partner in crime for the past year when it came to planning and timetabling and assessment – Megan Whyte from ETBI (Community National Schools).

Overall however, our presence in the colleges is mixed.

For the most part elective.

And not enough of it.

I leave the organisation not particularly optimistic, to be honest. I am in no way confident that the multi-denominational / equality-based sector (and that’s us and the CNS) will be given the space and opportunity and resources to flourish any time soon. It’s more crumbs from the table for the foreseeable future.

Ok, onto the fun bit.

Deirdre’s brownies. And biscuits. And lemon slices. My colleague in the office is a whizz at baking and the prospect of there being a tupperware of goodies in the break room when I got to work would put a spring in my step leaving the house.

Ruth (who’s since moved on to greater things) and I heading back to Dublin from a conference in Galway and en route to the motorway inexplicably  finding ourselves driving in circles around a hospital car park and laughing so much we can’t locate the exit.

A young pupil in Wicklow’s old building, (which was perched on the end of the outcrop at the time, overlooking the beach), expressing her exasperation with a classmate’s explanation as to what it was he really liked about the school, ‘Dolphins,’ she sighed, ‘I’m so tired of the dolphins.’

Looking at the online registration for one of our recent Ethical Education seminars and recognising a name which made me grin on the spot. I’d taught this person in Junior Infants. How fantastic is that! Hello Anna!

And my proudest moment. A conference in DCU with a speaker from UCC whose academic achievements were long and laudatory and yet nestled in there somewhere was a particular sporting item which, as an enthusiastic fan of the sport in question, fairly leapt from the page. The Q & A was coming to an end and I knew I’d regret not going for it. The organiser was about to wrap it up but spotting my ramrod arm in the air, decided to take one more ‘from Educate Together’. I took a deep breath. ‘So how do you get to be an umpire in Wimbledon?’

Sorry Educate Together. But three people came up to me afterwards and said that was the question they’d really wanted to ask.

It’s been a brilliant 13 years. But I’m delighted to be going back to Griffith Barracks MDS. And best of luck to Vera.