Yesterday Dave McGinn tweeted that somebody had said they attended an opening ceremony of an Educate Together school, at which seven religious preachers addressed the audience. Update: Emer Nowlan, Educate Together’s Chief Operating Officer, has since clarified that this ceremony did not take place in an Educate Together school. She understands that it took place in November 2008 in a Community National School in Dublin 15, run by DDLETB.
Independently of that issue, Dave’s tweet sparked the following wider discussion between me and Educate Together chairperson Diarmaid MacAonghusa about the general nature of Educate Together schools, including whether they are multi-denominational or non-denominational, how they teach spirituality, and how they adhere to the primary school curriculum and the rules for national schools. I thought it would be useful to record that discussion here.
Diarmaid – Have a look at our website and if you’re looking for a school then arrange a visit to see what they’re like.
Michael – Educate Together schools are multi-deminational. We have a human right to non-denominational education. Educate Together schools actively teach spiritual development. That is not non-denominational. Educate Together schools are state-funded private bodies, with no effective remedy for ECHR complaints. Diarmuid, do you agree that Educate Together schools provide multi-denominational, not non-denominational education?
Diarmaid – This issue has been gone through at length and our position was clarified here http://www.educatetogether.ie/media/national-news/the-educate-together-model
Michael – That conflates ET as a body and the education ET provides. Do you agree ET schools do not provide non-denominational education? Also, it says the obligation to provide religious instruction was removed. How? Are ET schools not subject to Rule 68?
Diarmaid – You should visit some schools and see what actually goes on and be less worried about non vs multi label. No faith formation.
Michael – Can you confirm that ET schools actively teach spiritual development? That is not non-denominational.
Diarmaid – No religious instruction takes place. Come visit, talk to parents. We are the only providers of non faith based edu in Ireland.
Michael – Paul Rowe is correctly complaining today about nod-and-wink approaches to education system. This is another example. Actively teaching spiritual development is faith-based. How could it be otherwise?
Diarmaid – The curriculum is there for you to see and pass judgment on http://www.educatetogether.ie/about/learn-together
Michael – Also, ET schools celebrate religious festivals, contrary to Toledo Guidelines. Again, not non-denominational. ET explicitly told the Forum on Patronage that ET schools actively teach spiritual development. Is that not true? The ET curriculum combines moral and spiritual into one strand. Non-denom schools wouldn’t link morality to spirituality.
Diarmaid – Children learn about various festivals. Call it celebrate if you like. And yes, Christmas gets a look in too.
Michael – ET calls it celebrate. That “call it celebrate if you like” is part of the problem. Toledo Guidelines say not to celebrate.
Diarmaid – At the end of the day I know how many children we have provided non faith based education to and how hard we’re working to grow
Michael – You haven’t provided any children non-faith-based education. Actively teaching spiritual development is faith-based. I agree you are providing good multi-denominational education, but you are also undermining the case for non-denominational. Specifically, trying to grow by claiming ET is non-denom, undermines the UN pressure on Ireland to provide actual non-denom.
Diarmaid – We grow by parental demand. We don’t open schools as a result of UN. We provide non faith edu, not talk about it.
Michael – How can actively teaching spiritual development be non-faith-based? Growing by parental demand denies the human rights of some citizens based on the views of their neighbours. Do you agree?
Diarmaid – If we were starting from zero non denom all the way but we’re not and we provide a real alternative. Come visit and see.
Michael – To clarify, you are saying ET schools do not provide non-d education, but provide a real multi-d alternative to denominational?
Diarmaid – I’m saying boundaries are not as b and w as you think and, as an atheist myself, I think u r caught up in labels not practise.
Michael – But I assume ET practices what it says it does? Actively teaching spiritual development, celebrating religious festivals? The labels are important. If you blur them, you are in the nod-and-wink territory Paul Rowe rightly complained about today. Will ET be hiring religious chaplains in any of the second-level schools that you are involved in?
Diarmaid – There will be no chaplain in Hansfield 2nd level, not sure of situ in schools with joint patronage with ETBs
Michael – Would you agree to hiring chaplains in schools with ET/ETB joint patronage? Also, from earlier, do ET schools have to abide by Rule 68 of the Rules for National Schools?
I then had the following brief exchange with Emer Nowlan, Educate Together’s Chief Operating Officer.
Emer – Come in and visit a school and see the curriculum in practice, Michael. Easier than explaining in 140 chars.
Michael – Are you implying that the curriculum in practice is different to what ET told the Forum on Patronage?
Emer – I’m inviting you to come and visit a school and learn about the curriculum and approach. That’s all.
Michael – Okay, I’ll rephrase the question more positively. Is the curriculum in practice the same as what ET told the Forum?
Emer – If you are interested in the curriculum, come in and see it taught. It’s a serious invitation. I’ll email you.
Michael – Okay, look forward to hearing from you.
A third strand of this discussion involved Dave, Kate who is studying to be an educational psychologist at UCD, and Diarmaid MacAonghusa. Here are some relevant extracts:
Dave – Is this really what goes on in Educate Together schools? :-/ /cc @micknugent pic.twitter.com/hullyOjQ7s
Kate – at some, yes. They’re multi-denominational, not non-denominational. One of the reasons I’ve issues with them.
Dave – Yeh I know – I guess I had assumed that that was a way of being inclusive but that they did not actively promote Rel
Kate – you can actively promote as long as all religions get equal time. Though obv “all” don’t, as you’d be forever. so I’m not sure on how they define “all”. it seems to be very school dependent, e.g. i know some that go mad for christmas and others aren’t even allowed mention it.
Dave – Ah, I see. Didn’t realise there would be so much variation between them. I’m learning a lot today! Would prefer non-denom now.
Kate – i def want non-demon for my (currently hypothetical) kids, and would prefer to teach in one. Not much choice there though!
Dave – Would have previously assumed ET was the antidote to the current system,but 7 preachers trying to convert my child sounds worse!
Diarmaid – There are no preachers at ET schools, some may have spoken at an opening but never during the school day.
Kate – I have other issues with the ET system too tbh, partly just that everything is up to the individual schools so much. I think the new community national schools are non-denom, have to see how they go.
Diarmaid – The Community National Schools are NOT non denominational.
Kate – there are also multi-denom gaelscoilleanna, no idea how they work though, they’re not under ET.
Diarmaid – One of them is – http://www.gortalainn.ie
Kate – the Gort Alainn website says multi-denominational, not non…?
Diarmaid – yes, it’s an ET school. There are no official non denom schools in Ireland. But in practice ET schools are.
There were also other strands of this discussion, including with other participants, which you can find by following the relevant tweets on the Twitter streams of any of the people I have quoted. If I have left out anything important, please let me know and I will include it.