Added on 26/03/2014
School Management Conference Hears Wide Ranging Contributions
Revd Dr Norman Gamble, the Revd Brian O’Rourke, Jacqueline Waters–Dewhurst, Scott Hayes, the Revd Lorraine Kennedy Richie, Gary Ó Donnchadha and Dr Ken Fennelly.
Members of boards of management of Church of Ireland primary schools from all over Ireland gathered in the King’s Hospital School, Palmerstown, for the fourth annual CIPSMA Conference on Saturday March 22.
The Church of Ireland Primary School Management Association had lined up a wide variety of speakers whose subjects ranged from the work of the Inspectorate of the Department of Education and Skills to supporting small rural schools in England. Legal matters affecting schools and boards of management and the recently published anti–bullying procedures were also covered and those in attendance also received an insight into being a school patron.
The conference, which received support from Ecclesiastical Insurance, opened with a service in the school chapel led by the chaplain, Canon Peter Campion.
WORK OF INSPECTORATE
Proceedings got underway with an address by Gary Ó Donnchadha, deputy chief inspector with the Department of Education and Skills who spoke about synergies for better learning, linking the work of boards of management and the Inspectorate. He said that a huge piece of work carried out by the OECD on quality in schools concluded that good practice is needed in all areas such external inspections and teacher appraisals. But the study also found that synergies, such as links between the Inspectorate and school boards, were very important in ensuring quality.
Mr Ó Donnchadha explained how the Inspectorate works and acknowledged with work of all involved in boards of management. He said all involved in school management should have ideas about high quality schools. He added that it was important that boards acquaint themselves with the codes of professional conduct as articulated by teachers through the teaching council. He advised those present that, following and external evaluation of their school, board members should find out what themes arose from the inspection and follow up on what the school is doing regarding recommendations made.
SMALL SCHOOLS AND CHANGING POPULATIONS
Director of Education with the Dioceses of Lincoln, Jacqueline Waters–Dewhurst, gave an interesting talk on small schools and changing populations. She said that immigration presented opportunities to serve the immigrant communities and indigenous communities. Lincoln has a lot of small rural schools with lot of Eastern European immigrant children whose parents come to work in farming. She said that small rural schools often struggled to be sustainable. Increasing immigration solved the numbers issue but did present challenges.
However, Ms Waters–Dewhurst said that schools must embrace the challenge of integrating children of immigrant communities on a number of grounds. Pragmatically, more children result in bigger schools and more staff meaning a better offer for all the school’s children. She said Church schools also have a duty in this regard. “In Church of England schools we do it for the local community, whatever that community looks like,” she commented. Education will benefit as local children will extend their knowledge and experience of the mixed world in which they live. She said that, contrary to what is often perceived, involving children with English as an additional language had a positive effect on school pupil performance.
“Welcoming pupils with different cultures and languages into your schools has positive effects on the indigenous pupils as well as the immigrant pupils. What’s important in church schools is to remember what’s at your core – what are your values – what do your schools believe. Your values will be what you call upon when you decide how welcoming your school is to the stranger in your midst,” she stated.
In the afternoon Margaret Gorman, formerly of the CPSMA and now working for Eversheds, highlighted legal developments in education. She referred to recent seminal court cases and their implications for school boards. She told the members of boards present: “You have your procedures. Make sure you use your procedures. But the procedures need to be updated,” she said. She also spoke about bullying, harassment and stress at work, which she said was disproportionately high among school staff. Equality requirements and issues for the ethos of a school and what to do in family law disputes were also covered.
Solicitors, Brian and Marianne Matthews talked about school anti–bullying procedures. Mr Matthews explained that the new anti–bullying procedures from the department were not optional. He said there was a movement away from the traditional model of bullying of sustained multi incident problems to include once off incidents such as a hurtful post of Facebook, which while it may only happen once, has a sustained impact until it is taken down. He said the school’s anti–bullying procedures must be linked into their code of behaviour. Schools must have an appropriate policy in place and ensure that everyone in the school community knew what to do and who to tell, he stated.
Ms Matthews said that including appropriate social media messages in schools’ anti–bullying policies was vital. Parents needed to be included as they needed to monitor what their children were doing on Facebook and Twitter. But Ms Matthews reminded people that attaching the label of bullying was very damaging to the bully and it was important to investigate the allegation carefully. Children needed to be educated in school as to the appropriate use of social media and how it could affect them later in life, she added.
BEING A PATRON
The Bishop of Cashel and Ossory, the Rt Revd Michael Burrows, gave the final presentation of the day on the role of the patron. As patron of 28 schools in seven counties he said that a large slice of his work as Bishop was taken up with patronage. “School communities have a legitimate expectation of their patron – that they will know us,” the Bishop stated. He said he had been told during a visit to one school that he was the ethos of the school and agreed that in some ways as patrons travelled around the schools they epitomised the characteristic of the school by their presence. He said it was important not to micro manage but that teachers and chairpersons knew that he was available to talk to.
Bishop Burrows asked if it was wise that school patrons remained individual human beings or whether a corporate patron should be set up for the Church of Ireland. He suggested that there was a strong argument for individual patronage with stronger backup than that available currently, although he praised the wonderful support that he received from Dr Ken Fennelly and Eimear Ryan in Church House.
Speaking on the subject of ethos, the Bishop said: “Defining ethos is more difficult than defining the Blessed Trinity. However, what patron can convey is that this is a faith based place. We need to reflect on what faith based education is. It is often related to worshiping community of parish. It is not about tribalism. It is not about us and them. It is the acknowledgement that in a place devoted to learning that it will be part of the reality of being human that some things will remain unknowable. If something is mathematical or formulaic, then it is not faith based”.
He wondered what the future held for patronage and suggested that Minister Quinn would like patrons to be abolished. However, he said he had never met any hostility as a patron and never met visceral opposition to the idea that he was a patron. “The anti clericalism in Ireland is over estimated,” he stated. “There is more of a soul to this country than the newspapers would have us believe and it will go on. It will change. We may have more co–located schools… We will have more Christian schools and fewer denominational schools. So we need to have a more robust definition of why we have faith based schools,” he said.
Marianne Matthews, Margaret Gorman, Scott Hayes, Bishop Michael Burrows, Eimear Ryan, Dr Ken Fennelly and the Revd Dr Norman Gamble.
Photos: Lynn Glanville
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