- 25 Jan 19
In our first Soapbox article of the year, Eileen O'Gorman, one of the top legal advisors in the music, entertainment and media spheres in Ireland, addresses the lack of co-educational, multi-denominational second level schools in Ireland.
I grew up in Birr, Co. Offaly and attended the local schools with my neighbourhood friends. We cycled or walked together, and the odd morning scrounged a lift from our history teacher, who lived a few doors away. I remember my school days fondly, and the progression from primary to secondary with my friends was smooth and natural. That’s the way I want it to feel for my own children and their friends.
Fast forward to a kitchen table in Dublin 12 on a dark and damp January evening, around which a group of parents are grappling with the lack of the availability of second-level schools in their neighbourhoods, of the kind that would give their children a harmonious progression from primary to secondary school, and continuity of ethos in their education. These parents have come together specifically to see what can can be done to address the lack of a co-educational, multi-denominational, Educate Together-style second-level school for their children.
The parents include neighbours from Dublin 6, 8 and 12. Their children attend primary schools together in the same areas. And yet there is no option for those children to progress together to a second level school in their neighbourhood. These parents – of which I am one – have every right to be concerned. We want to give our children the opportunity to have continuity in ethos in respect of their education. We want them to have the safety net and comfort children need, by giving them the opportunity, alongside their friends, to make their transition to secondary school a harmonious one.
We want to encourage and nurture those friendships, as we know how important they are for children facing into the challenges created by today’s often turbulent society. We want our children’s education to make them good communicators and well-rounded individuals, encouraged to grow and develop in an inclusive school environment. We want to ensure that our children will receive their constitutional right to the education they deserve, to keep local and school communities together.
We hear a lot these days about diversity of patronage and parental preference being a top priority of the Department of Education. Well, we have presented the department with a readymade solution, which involves bringing this school community of Dublin 8 and 12 together with their neighbours in Dublin 6W, in the proposed new school in Harold’s Cross. Our children – from Dublin 8 and 12 – are being excluded from the school planning area (and indeed for another new school being opened in D2), despite the fact that it’s effectively on their doorstep, and presents a real and viable solution for nearly 1,000 parents from these combined neighbourhoods.
This is not the way to achieve sustainable education. We want the Department of Education to address school planning areas not by drawing absurd boundaries, but by addressing existing school communities – and actually listening to parents’ preferences. To date they have failed to listen to us. As parents, we have a constitutional right to provide for the “religious and moral, intellectual, physical and social education” of our children. It should follow that parents have the right to choose the type of school they wish their children to attend.
The Department of Education and Skills has an obligation to children. To fulfil this properly, they should plan and provide for such schools, and maintain the communities fostered in primary education. Include Dublin 8 and 12 in the planning area for the new school in Harold’s Cross. There is no reason why you can’t.