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Resilience of education sector during pandemic praised at General Synod

Resilience of education sector during pandemic praised at General Synod

Those who have risen to the challenge of Covid and kept education going throughout the pandemic received generous praise at General Synod on Saturday morning (October 2). Both the proposer and seconder of the report of the Board of Education commended the resilience of all involved in education throughout this extraordinary time.

Proposing the report on behalf of the Board of Education (RI), Canon Harry Gilmore (Raphoe) said: “It is amazing, to my mind, that we have kept going so well in education at all levels be it primary secondary or third level, and the things that have been done that we never thought we would be able to do or should do. Many, many people have risen to the challenge”.

He acknowledged that things had not been perfect and had been difficult at times but that those working in education had learned new ways of doing things.

He highlighted a newly launched project – the Small Schools Initiative. He said small schools were often the backbone of parishes in the Republic. The Protestant community had been offered the opportunity to take part in a new two year project along with various other schools of different patronage.

Four small schools in a cluster in the north–west of County Donegal – Dunfanaghy, Creeslough, Ballymore and Gartan – will participate in the project. The four schools will receive a co–ordinator who will work with them for the two years and will try to work out ways in which their administration can be shared. “This is not to do with amalgamations or sharing principals or anything like that. The assurance from the Department is that it will simply be to help them to function better,” Canon Gilmore explained.

The project is supported by a unit in DCU and the Irish Primary Principals Network and partners in education and the Department of Education has a budget for it.

Seconding the report on behalf of the Board of Education (NI) the Revd Catherine Simpson said: “It is only right to start by paying tribute to the dedication, tenacity and determination shown by all of our schools who have continued to provide high quality education for the pupils in their care throughout these unprecedented and challenging times. They successfully navigated the challenges of online learning, including Google Classroom and other platforms that have only recently been invented, working from home, whilst remaining open for the children of key workers alongside managing life within ‘bubbles’”.

The Board of Education (NI) commended the resilience of staff, pupils and parents/guardians during these exceptional times and Ms Simpson thanked all involved in education for their determination to keep learning going.

She said that the Board continued to have representatives at all levels of education and to make a case for the influence of the Christian faith on education. “There is a greater move in society to call for minimising the Christian influence and indeed there are many who wish to remove the influence of Churches from schools. The Board is working tirelessly to combat this and asks for your support in protecting the Christian ethos of Controlled Schools within Northern Ireland and in so doing ensuring quality education for all,” she stated.

She encouraged parishes to support their local schools in new and creative ways and to avail of supports to promote connectivity between parishes and local schools.

On behalf of the Synod Archbishop John McDowell gave a heartfelt thanks to those involved in education the length and breadth of the island. The tremendous effort and risk involved in maintaining education must be acknowledged, he stated.

Speaking to the report Carolyn Good said that as the principal of a small rural Church of Ireland school she sometimes felt that being a small school was a disadvantage. But at the height of the pandemic she considered it to be an advantage as they were able to reach out to their community effectively. She said that the Church of Ireland Centre at DCU understood the small schools setting and how they operate and were able to send input on RE and assemblies that did not need to be altered to suit the setting.  She commended the centre and the school’s direct contact, Jacqui Wilkinson, for their timely and direct support. She encouraged the centre and schools in a cooperative future together.

John Aiken (Dublin and Glendalough) commented on the impact of pandemic on schools as an educator and noted that schools which charged tuition fees were unable to apply for financial support. He stated that the staff within the 19 schools felt betrayed by their employers, the Department of Education. However, he highlighted the supreme efforts of the Board of Education and the staff of Church House to resolve these issues. He thanked the Archbishop of Dublin for his support of staff and students in schools in the Dublin Province in this matter and his efforts to support the morale of those in education throughout this pandemic.

Bishop Ian Ellis spoke about the direct influence the church has in education. He said there was a responsibility to ensure members were using that right and encouraged clergy and lay people to ensure that we are filling those gaps on boards of high schools. He appealed to those who are transferor governors in primary schools that they would find people willing to go forward to fill the gaps in high schools

Bishop Michael Burrows paid tribute to Dr Fennelly and Ms Eimear Ryan in Church House. Ms Eimear Ryan has just left the staff after extraordinary support to legal issues in schools, he said. In relation to Dr Fennelly he said he had been the patron of 30 primary schools and it was only when one was a patron that one recognised the extraordinary range of skills that was sought from Dr Fennelly. “I couldn’t survive as a patron without the friendly advice and support from Dr Fennelly,” he stated adding that staffing was tight and there were other patron bodies who had far greater resources entrusted to their backroom staff than the Church of Ireland does.

Frank Dobbs asked about the position of integrated schools in Northern Ireland and if the Church was providing support for education in integrated schools. The Revd Catherine Simpson explained the situation in education in Northern Ireland and said that the integrated sector is a new concept in NI and there were two bodies involved. Transferor governors sit on controlled school boards, she said. Archbishop McDowell added that the Church does support where legal arrangement allow and said that integrated schools do not just happen in the integrated schools sector but also in the controlled schools and grammar schools.  

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