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Day 2

Report of the Board of Education highlights a busy year’s work

The report of the Board of Education was presented at General Synod this afternoon (Thursday May 5). The report was proposed by Canon Malcolm Kingston who highlighted the activities of the board in Northern Ireland during the past year. The seconder, Kieran Sparling, focused on the work of the board in the Republic of Ireland.

Canon Kingston said that the board in Northern Ireland continued to work with other churches to ensure that education was shaped by the core values of the Christian faith at a time when these were under increasing societal scrutiny. The board also contributed to parish projects working with local schools, he said adding that it would open access to this fund before the end of June.

The Board further funds the Church of Ireland Lecture at Queens University through the HUB Chaplaincy Centre, he said. This year’s lecture is available on the HUB website. https://thehubbelfast.org/

The board recognised the professionalism and dedication of all involved in schools who worked in the context of the continuing pandemic and thanked governors, school leaders, teachers, ancillary staff and parents for the support they had given to children and young people at a time when schools had faced unprecedented challenges, he said.

Canon Kingston spoke about the work of the Education Authority. The Church of Ireland is represented on its board by the Revd Amanda Adams and Frances Boyd. He said that a major area of pressure in the Northern Ireland education system continued to be the provision of appropriate education for children and young people with special educational needs.

He said that Church representation on the Education Authority provided a particularly important input to decision making in the context of the Transferor’s right to appoint governors to Controlled schools. Over 1500 Governors were appointed to individual school Boards and played a pivotal role in the governance of these schools and provided an opportunity for the maintenance of a strong Christian ethos, he stated.  He said that the board encouraged parishes to make all efforts to ensure that all Transferor seats were filled in this process and stressed that it was essential that the church used the opportunity to have individuals at the hub of school decision making and accountability.

Outlining the role of the Transferor Representatives’ Council, he said that members were involved at strategic and operational levels in the Area Planning process which aims to ensure that the provision of school places in Northern Ireland and the configuration of schools provided the opportunity for all children and young people to have fair access to education.

Members of the Board of Education NI had been actively involved in the multi–organisation work to devise a strategic and operational plan for the review and development of schools across the province, he reported. Consultation on the next strategic area plan has been completed and the operational plan for mainstream and special schools will shortly be published for consultation. He encouraged parishes to consider the area planning proposals and respond as appropriate as it sets out the framework for school provision in future years.

The Church of Ireland is represented by Dr Peter Hamill on the Board of the Controlled Schools Support Council which advocates for Controlled Schools.

“In summary the ongoing provision of education in Northern Ireland continues to present many challenges and opportunities.  It remains vitally important that the roles of churches are not diminished, and this Board of Education is committed to making a meaningful contribution on behalf of our church and to the maintenance of a strong Christian Ethos in schools,” Canon Kingston concluded.

The report was seconded by Kieran Sparling (Limerick) who outlined the work of the board in the Republic of Ireland. He said that thankfully schools had returned to in person teaching and learning. But he said that the negative effects of being away from in classroom were evident.

“In having to adapt to online learning as a provisional measure during the pandemic, students missed out on much else which comes with their educational experience. In person assemblies, missing out on sports, not being able to socialise in person with peers, having to defer certain rites from graduations to confirmations, to name some of the aspects of school life which contribute to an overall education. All involved in running schools and education ought to be rightly commended for their hard work and commitment during such challenging times – but our students are most definitely deserving and worthy of singular praise when one considers their adaptability in such circumstances,” he stated.

He said some of the effects were increased anxiety in students and it was clear is that schools were about more than mere tuition. Schools were often the communities through which young people experienced stability.

Discussion on education in the Republic of Ireland
Speaking to the report with reference to the Republic of Ireland, Joan Bruton (Meath and Kildare) said that parish primary schools in the republic played an enormous part in faith development. So she commended the teachers and Rectors who held imaginative services. She promoted the SEC schools which in general had a Christian ethos which provided an opportunity for teenagers to get together for worship which was relevant to them.

Canon John Clarke (Meath and Kildare) raised the issue of funding for patrons of primary schools for the occasional thorny educational issue which occurred from time to time in the dioceses. Since patrons did not have funding they sometimes sought funding from the diocesan boards of education, he said. He requested that funding be allocated as a resource for national school patrons.

Bishop Michael Burrows (Tuam, Limerick and Killaloe) spoke of the experience of being a school patron. He said that in the Republic patrons were regarded as the epitome of all that was dangerous in education. He said the narrative was that faith based education was unintelligent and dangerous and stated that that narrative must be countered by all who believe in the importance of faith based education. He expressed his gratitude to Dr Fennelly and said he could not understand how one person could offer such information all the time.

On the issue of divestment, Bishop Burrows noted that that from time to time it was appropriate to divest a school to a different patron. It is not done lightly but on occasion, after consideration, it was deemed wise. “The baying in the media is that we should do it with all schools,” he noted. But he said that when the decision was reached that it is best to transfer patronage, generally to the ETB, then great wrath was unleashed on the Patron. Then, he said that the Department of Education took a long time to action the decision. He suggested that the Department of Education facilitate the mechanism of transfer and stop attacking patrons in the newspapers.

Northern Ireland Discussion
Speaking about the activities of the Board in Northern Ireland Judith Cairns (Connor) said that there was a huge opportunity in 2023 to ensure that the right people were on the boards of Transferor Governors. She said there was an opportunity to protect and promote the Church’s values. She urged members to think about finding the right people for these roles.

Revd Catherine Simpson said was one of the people serving on the TRC. She thanked all who served on boards of governors. She asked people to pray for local schools on Sundays, support local schools and apply for funding. She spoke about a project in the Hollywood area where a drugs programme was set up to talk about drugs in local schools. She encouraged everyone to get involved.

Bishop Ian Ellis (Clogher) paid tribute to Ken Fennelly and the secretary of the Board of Education NI, Peter Hamill, who he said was equally good at providing support. He addressed the issue of the emotional health and well being of young people. He said there was not enough support for young people’s well being in schools. He said there were many children suffering with general mental health issues and anxieties who were waiting for months for support. He urged an increase of resources in this area.

The Revd Mark Lennox (Armagh) asked if there was any way to ask transferor representatives to allow clergy back into schools again to hold whole school assemblies.

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