Concerned about the lack of options available to us locally, this is Why I Want a Second-level Educate Together School Here for my Daughter.
A decade ago when first applying for secondary teaching positions I sent off CVs all over the country in the hope of landing a few hours subbing.
One afternoon while out shopping, I received a phone call from a principal from a Leinster school. Naturally I was terribly excited but nothing had prepared me for the following. “Your name, it’s interesting. I was expecting a different accent.” “Eh… Kildare, but my parents are from different counties!” “Well, no, we wanted to check in case you were an English Protestant with a name like that. Before we’d call you for an interview.” I was a bit too stunned to continue the conversation with any kind of coherence, and he said he’d keep my CV on file. I never heard from him again.
This incident, and unfortunately a few more like it, came from a judgement about my name. It was something I had encountered before in my life, but I didn’t expect to find it in a professional workplace. I thought things were moving forward not staying stagnant. I can only imagine what kind of discrimination the children of hardworking immigrants face. I imagine it is not pleasant.
My Daughter’s Rights
I have a two year old daughter. As soon as I had her PPS number I put her name down for the local Educate Together primary. My thoughts immediately turned to second-level. Where I live, there are very few options – most she can’t access because we chose not to baptise her.
I’ve been directed towards multi-denominational secondary schools in South Kildare, all of them with dedicated and hardworking staff.
For example, the one under the patronage of the Diocese of Kildare and Leighlin. Another that has decided that as the majority of its students are Roman Catholic religion shall permeate the entire day, faith formation will take place and staff and students are expected to follow. It is not unusual for a school described as multi-denominational to have one designated faith, which can come as a surprise to many.
You see, there is a belief amongst some that allowing non-Catholics into a school makes that a multi-denominational school. Those of us who disagree are being ignored. Yes, there are inclusive multi-denominational schools, but not as many as people might think, and often with specific catchment areas.
Catholic and other religious schools have a right to exist. But my daughter also has a right to an education. She has a right to attend a school that will respect her for who she is. She should not be labelled an “other” or be required to sit at the back of a room.
The argument “they should set up their own schools” is often made. But how can an alternative choice be set up when politicians decide extending existing schools is the answer to the places crisis; we’ve met the demographic demand. (Although, this is hotly disputed in South Kildare, where it is argued that even with extensions there will be insufficient places for this “bums on seats” solution.)
Legally I can withdraw my daughter from Religious education. RSE often takes places within timetabled religion time. Do I withdraw her from that too? Do I withdraw her from Biology, because of the religious groups who often arrive into schools to “teach about the reproductive system”, much to the dismay of many science teachers obliged to maintain the school ethos.
Do I drive to the school to babysit her or let her sit in the back of the classroom all ears to whatever is going on in the room anyway?
I can see my First Holy Communion picture as I type this. For, despite the assumptions made by some, I was raised in the Catholic faith. (Like many in this country my heritage is a mixture). My recently departed father is smiling for the camera as proud as any father ever was. He never had time for the ins and outs of ritual and rules, he believed in living a good life and being kind and welcoming to everyone.
He also had great respect for education, and worked long and hard for his three children to get the third-level education he never had the opportunity to receive. How would he feel about the fact that his granddaughter might not be able to access a second level education that could open those doors for her?
My daughter is playing at my feet. We often walk to the church beside our house and light a candle for her granddad. She went to mass on Christmas Day with her granny and aunty. Not choosing a religion does not mean denying its existence or the beautiful things it can hold.
The Educate Together movement embraces that complexity of our world and teaches respect for the diversity within it.
No Labels, No Prejudgement
It is the only model that will welcome her as a true equal and provide her with a full timetable that I can be comfortable with. No labels, no prejudgement.
But my choice for that model goes beyond religion – I prefer the educational approach of Educate Together Schools and I would like my daughter to continue with it after primary. I believe all parents should have choice.
The South Kildare Educate Together campaign has over 2,000 expressions of interest yet our elected representatives do not see the need for this school and have decided it is not an election issue.
Education and equality will always be an election issue. It is my wish that a politician will take the brave step and deliver this much needed and wanted school.
With thanks to Heather Coates for providing this piece.
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