Dáil debates

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Education (Amendment) Bill 2010: Second Stage (Resumed)


5:00 pm

Photo of Frank FaheyFrank Fahey (Galway West, Fianna Fail)

-----who became ghettoised and totally removed from mainstream society, and therefore began to create all of the trouble that we have seen in Britain as well as in other European countries. I tried to address this. Instead of talking about segregation we put in place a very significant programme of integration. This Bill enables us to put that into practice in a very practical way. The VECs are the ideal way in which to ensure diversity in our education and, irrespective of who runs the school, that the wishes of the parents are the primary requirement in terms of what, if any, religion is taught in that school.

The way in which schools throughout the country have reacted to the influx of a multi-national and multi-regional community deserves great credit. We should be proud of the way in which the teachers and the principals who have had this massive influx of children from a variety of cultural and religious backgrounds were able to assimilate these children into their schools. They deserve the appreciation and thanks of this House for the seamless way in which they have succeeded to do this. We are fortunate that children right across the spectrum are being integrated in our schools and that it is a good news story in terms of the absence of racism. I am not saying racism does not exist; it does. However, the position is much better than that which pertains in some of our neighbouring European countries.

There are a number of schools in Galway, such as the Claddagh national school and Mervue national school, where there could be 12 or 15 different nationalities. One can sense the atmosphere as one walks into those schools and there is no such thing as children being racist or children not from Ireland feeling in any way inferior to the rest. Great credit is due to those who run those schools for the way in which they enabled those children to integrate.

One of the most difficult issues with which I have had to deal - Deputy Michael D. Higgins has encountered the same situation and we have discussed it - is where a son or daughter of asylum seekers has integrated in the school system and other children and their parents want to know why the State must send them home. It has been heart breaking for me to have to say, unfortunately, I cannot do anything to keep this family in Galway. I understand the reason they must go home but when it comes to the point where the children are saying they do not want such children to go back to Africa, it is proof of the success of our teachers, principals and boards of management. We should acknowledge that in this House this evening and extend our thanks to them.

Another point I want to make relates to the multi-belief programme, which has been working under the title, "Goodness me, Goodness you", and is designed to cater for children of all beliefs and none, with content appropriate for both their theist and non-theist perspectives - maybe somebody would explain to me what that means. In keeping with the commitment to provide belief-specific teaching in accordance with the wishes of parents, the programme also provides for belief-specific modules to be delivered for children whose parents take that option. That is an excellent provision, which has been researched for some time and which, I understand, has been very successful. The most important and fundamental point here is that, as that statement says, we can have children in our schools with all beliefs and none, they can be catered for whatever their religion and they can integrate, and that the teaching of religion to different religious groups within the school is a seamless exercise. The existing patronage, under the Catholic church, has worked well in that respect. The new patronage, under the VECs, is welcome. No doubt the patronage of Educate Together has been outstanding.

We all agree that the standard of Educate Together schools is as high as one can get and the way in which parents have contributed in no small way to the ethos of those schools has meant there is a huge motivation for the absolute highest standards to be achieved. I can speak only from my knowledge of a number of Educate Together schools in Galway. They have the highest standard that one can find in terms of the education they provide and the ethos that is intrinsic in the Educate Together model, where diversity is a first principle and where religious beliefs are accommodated irrespective of what they are.

I commend the Tánaiste on the introduction of this legislation. I welcome the way in which the board of management structure is set up. I was the chairman of the board of management of a new community school in Gort when I was a Member of the Seanad. I had been Minister of State in the Department of Education prior to then and it was interesting for me to go back and become chairman of a board of management.

The critical success of the board of management system of community schools and community colleges was the representation of the community. In that respect, it is most democratic that there are two direct nominees of the patron, two teacher representatives, two parent representatives and two community representatives and it certainly gives all of those interests adequate power to influence the decision-making and the direction of the school.

On the concerns that have been expressed on religious education being delivered in community national schools, the availability of religious education for all faiths and none during the school day is a central tenet of the community national school and it is a distinguishing feature of the new schools. However, there has been a view expressed in the media that this new CNS model of patronage should not involve itself in the provision of faith-specific teaching during the school day. The policy on religious education in these schools is as agreed by the Government. In approving the development of an additional model of primary school patronage, the Government's intention was to provide an option for those who continued to seek for their children the option of faith-specific teaching during the school day. In line with the practice throughout the wider primary school system, the patron in the community national school is responsible for providing religious education as part of the school curriculum in keeping with the characteristic spirit and ethos of the school. That makes great common sense. It is the central point in this debate. It has been working well in practice, as I have just stated, and long may it continue that we should lead the way in Europe in terms of integration of the multi-cultural multi-national community. If we can succeed in teaching our children to have respect for each other's culture, education and religion, we will have no problem in the future.


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