There’s an ad on the TV at the moment with the catchphrase “Change is good”. It could also say that change is inevitable. The modern Ireland we now live in, needs modern schools and a modern approach to education. The time for change is NOW.
Parent Enda shares his story: Having already experienced refusal on denominational grounds at primary level, he now fears for secondary – No Faith. What School Choice Will My Sons Really Have?
I spent my childhood in rural Sligo during the 80’s and 90’s before moving to Dublin in the 00’s to work and make my fortune. (Not quite there yet!)
Looking back to those formative years and then forward again to my current life in Kildare, the sheer level of change in the country is phenomenal. The Ireland I knew as a child is like a different country to the Ireland we live in today, but I think we are better for it.
Like most my age I was raised in a deeply religious house, mass at least once a week, often twice. I went to a Catholic national school, a Catholic secondary school but by the time I hit college, like most of my peers, I no longer identified with the faith of my parents. Apart from the odd wedding or funeral I assumed this was the end of the story, but little did I realise the situation I was heading into as soon as I started a family.
Yes, I’ll admit we had some initial resistance from the grandparents when the grandchildren arrived and christenings weren’t held.
And with the general consensus from the family becoming a combination of “sure what harm could it do” and “would you not do it for the grandparents”, it quickly became clear that it wasn’t about what we as parents thought, or even what the kids themselves thought, it was simply that we should go through the motions, and that change was bad.
As parents we wondered how many others who purported to be “of the faith” were simply going through the motions, and indeed what that said of the faith itself.
Not baptised – Rejected from denominational schools
Years later the issue of religion hit us hard once again. Our oldest son grew to primary school age, and having registered him with the nearest school we were left waiting to see if he had gotten a place for September.
An initial call at the start of the year from a school administrator informed us that our son was in the middle of the table, almost assuring us a place. The call however was also to question about his Baptism date, missing from the form. We informed the caller we weren’t “of a faith”. Weeks later an official note let us know that due to an increase in numbers our son was now well down the list and unlikely to get in. It seemed obvious as to what had happened.
Perhaps we should have researched the schools ethos before hedging our bets.
With little time left we applied to two other local schools. First we applied to what was called a multi-denominational school. No preferential treatment we assumed. Sadly a short time later the call again came, asking about baptism dates and informing us that multi-denominational meant both Catholic and Protestant, you know, both religions.
As someone who works in the IT sector in the heart of Dublin I have spent many years deeply engulfed in modern multicultural Ireland so I almost laughed at the antiquated concept of multi-denominational education presented to us.
The second school also stipulated that if we decided not to have our son fall into one of those categories they were not in a position to provide cover while religion class was happening, so our son would be singled out and excluded and sent to a study hall on his own.
Educate Together school provided solution
Thankfully at this time we found Educate Together.
Our application had been accepted and our son found a wonderful start into his time in education. At our local Educate Together school, our son has received a truly multi-denominational education from the start, learning about all the world religions and also interacting with children from a variety of backgrounds.
His education mirrors the modern Ireland I see around us. He sees not only the local culture, but also the cultures of those new arrivals to our shores.
The school is well run, the teachers couldn’t be nicer, the atmosphere is always positive. There have been no incidences of fights or bullying. As a parent I feel relieved.
As Educate Together is a relatively new type of school for many areas, I still hear the odd erroneous or ignorant comment about it being an “airy fairy hippy commune” with “lax rules on education or attendance”, always from someone who doesn’t have kids in the school. I usually put this type of criticism into a group named the change is bad brigade.
The simple facts are that Educate Together schools have well established principles and follow the same educational guidelines that apply to all national schools.
The second type of criticism is sadly more xenophobic. I’ve heard people say why would you send your kids there, “it’s full of foreigners” and the kids don’t speak English and slow your child’s education. This type of criticism saddens me.
Again I can say without a doubt that “the fear” is not borne out in the reality of the situation. My son shares his class with children from all over the world. Most of the parents are professionals who moved to Dublin or Kildare for work, and speak more than one European language.
Like most Irish people I can speak English and barely know enough French or Spanish to order food while on holiday, so the reality I have seen is that more often than not, it is us Irish who struggle to communicate at the level of our European counterparts and not the other way around.
And so my son and his younger brothers primary school education is assured, and my wife and I are confident in the quality of support our family receives. However, even though we still have 4 years of primary school left for our oldest son, the next step for him is unclear.
But where will my sons go to secondary school?
Kildare is a commuter county and with high population comes stretched services. We find ourselves in a countdown situation where there are limited secondary schools in the area, and most are tied to religious patronage. Having experienced first-hand the way national schools look on “non-religious” or people from minority religions, we are certain to have a fight ahead of us at some point.
I have been involved in the campaign for an Educate Together secondary school here for the last 18 months, and the journey has been exhausting.
With large growing parental support for such a multicultural and multi-denominational type of school in Kildare South, I have seen this hope dashed once too often by the governments wasted attempts to fix the problem. Simply adding prefabs or extensions to already crowded and religious patronage schools is patching a problem with a band aid.
It enforces the concept that as far as education goes we just need to keep things going the way they are. It says that change is bad.
To watch a petition for an Educate Together secondary school grow rapidly to well over 2000 applicants, it has also become obvious that there is both mandate and appetite for an Educate Together school in South Kildare, and to deny this is to deny facts and bury your head in the sand.
I have two boys who love to learn. Two boys who are inquisitive, good natured and happy to wake for school on a Monday morning. Not many parents can say that, I know. I hope they never lose this love of learning.
My deeply held hope is that the government realises that modern Ireland needs modern schools and a modern approach to education, and that an Educate Together secondary level school WILL be built in South Kildare to meet the growing number of parents who are calling for it.
Some will look at us and call us a loud minority, some may even call us trouble makers. Regardless of criticism, what I do not consider myself is someone who just goes through the motions.
We must be the agents of change that our children deserve. We must be the catalysts. Our children deserve better, our country deserves better.
With thanks to Enda Rochford for providing this content piece.
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