Human Rights Month 2011 “Equality is a Human Right”

Our 7th Annual Human Rights Month takes place this October. The theme for this year’s event is “Equality is a Human Right”.
Over the course of the month programmes of teaching/learning within the school’s Learn Together ( Ethical Curriculum for ET schools) , Social Personal and Health Education (SPHE), Relationsships and Sexuality Education ( RSE), English, Geography, History, Drama, Visual Arts and Maths curricula will be dedicated to this theme. In this Blog Posting I hope to outline the Philosophy behind this theme. A separate programme of events will also be sent to each home shortly. Parents are reminded that I (Fintan, Principal) am available at all times to discuss any issue, big or small, that may emerge over the course of the month.

In the Republic of Ireland legislation forbids public and private bodies and individuals from discriminating against persons on nine ‘grounds’. These ‘grounds are:
Gender, Marital Status ( or Family Status), Sexual Orientation, Religious Belief, Age, Race, Disability or Membership of the Traveller Community. Discrimination against any member of these nine groups in understood in Human Rights literature to be a denial of their Human ( or Children’s ) Rights.

Over the course of the Human Rights month in our school we intend to develop programmes of teaching and learning for the children, in an age-appropriate manner, that will introduce the children to this ‘knowledge’ and to cause reflection on issues of discrimination in keeping with best practice in Citizenship Education internationally. This work is a ‘core’ aspect of our Educate Together ethos and our Inclusive and Multicultural school policy and practice.

I stress that we will be age-appropriate and professionally accountable and responsible in our work and that not all classes will be working on all ‘grounds’. Here is an outline of the issues which we will try to address categorised under the nine ‘grounds’;

• Equal treatment of boys and girls in the classroom
• Equal treatment of boys and girls in the broader school
• Equal treatment of boys and girls in their homelives and the manner in which this manifests itself in both school and the wider community ( Curriculum, PE, Sport, Craft, Clubs, Pastimes, Religious identity, Cultural Identity) • Transgender issues ( RSE for senior classes)
• Addressing gender stereotyping ( SPHE)
• Gender stereotyping in the media ( English)

*Marital Status and Family Status*
• The equality of the different forms of partnership
• The equality of the different forms of family make-up

*Sexual Orientation*
• the equality of different forms of sexual orientation ( RSE Senior Classes) • homophobia as a form of bullying ( Anti-Bullying Programmes) • homophobic stereotyping ( Learn Together; Equality and Justice Strand) • workplace issues ( Staff protocols)

*Religious Belief*
• the equality of all religious beliefs ( Learn Together: World Belief Systems Strand)
• the equality of non-religious beliefs with religious beliefs (Learn Together: Equality and Justice Strand)

• definitions of childhood and conceptions of childhood ( History, SPHE)
• age-discrimination issues “too young” ( Child Protection, Bullying, Child Exploitation)
• age-discrimination issues “too old” ( Age Discrimination in workplaces, Geography; Working People, Accomodation of Elderly in the wider community)

• racism and antiracism ( Anti-Racist Statement, SPHE programmes, Historical Explorations of Colonization and Slavery, Contemporary experiences of racism)
• racist bullying ( use of perjorative terms relating to race, skin-colour, religion, cultural identity) • racial stereotyping ( exploration of media, reflection on school practice)
• issues of inclusion at parent level ( levels of participation in school structures, levels of participation in school life)

• accommodation of disability in our school
• accommodation of disability in the immediate vicinity of the school • accommodation of disability in the wider community

*Membership of a Traveller Community ( incl. Irish and Roma)* • traveller culture and identity: Irish Travellers
• traveller culture and identity: Roma Community
• reflection on school practice re education of Roma children • homes, housing and homelessness

Once again I would like to remind parents that I am available at all times to discuss any issues arising from these plans/events, and please feel free to leave a comment on this Blog by using the “Comment’ or “Reply” Buttons.

Fintan (Principal)



What is a Timebank?
A timebank is a ‘bank’ in which volunteers can make ‘deposits’ which can be redeemed in due course to be used to pay for ‘services’. In our school context it would mean that parents who have some free time, could use this time to volunteer in specific projects in the school, and have this time recorded and noted formally as ‘deposits’ in a ledger called a ‘timebank’ and then use this credit as part-payment against services offered by the school which normally would cost money.

An example would be:
The internal school walls are in constant need of painting. It would cost the school money to pay for this to be done by a contractor. Instead, if a group of parents were to undertake to give their labour and expertise for free, the hours they spend doing this would be noted/recorded and ‘banked’ in a ledger. Next Autumn, when the After-School Clubs cycle comes around again, this ‘banked’ credit could be translated into vouchers which could be used to part-pay for a selection of clubs for your children.

Another example might be:
The school needs a series of books to be scanned into digital computer files for future classroom use by the teachers. Any parent who has the skill to do this, in the school premises, using school facilities, could have their time/labour recorded and ‘banked’ in the timebank-ledger. In due course, this ‘banked’ credit could be redeeemd as vouchers and used in part-payment for your child to participate in a Summer Camp in the school.

The particular projects that are suitable for this, from the school’s perspective, are those projects which would otherwise cost the school money; so a saving to the school’s finances has to be made ( i.e. it is not something that should normally be expected to be done, or is done, on a voluntary basis in keeping with normal parental-involvement protocols in the school). For this reason only specific projects will be called ‘Timebank Projects’. An initial list of these might be some gardening, building-maintenance, IT projects.

Also, all of our extra-curricular projects for children must self-fund, so the ‘vouchers’ that accrue from hours of voluntarism can only ever be part-payment for these services and cannot replace fully the cash needed to meet the overheads of these initiatives.

I am grateful to Tom Moriarity from Adamstown Educate Together for his presentation on ‘Timebank’ at our recent Principal’s training weekend.

Is there an enthusisasm amongst our school parents for this kind of project? What do you think might be the strengths and weaknesses of a project such as this? Would this kind of project be of benefit to Balbriggan ETNS? Please leave a comment.

Make-Up or No-Make-Up

We request your opinion!

It has emerged that many of our older girls in the school are choosing to wear make-up to school and it has prompted a discussion at all levels in our school most notably amongst the children themselves, but also at teacher,
parent and management levels too. To the extent that it really is decision time! Please help us in our decision making by contributing to this Blog?

At the children-level, the Student Council representatives have gleaned the views from all the boys and girls in their classes and brought them to the Council meetings. They are quite ‘split’ in their opinions. Many have argued that it is the child’s right to express himself/herself in this way, in a similar vein as we do when we have our ‘no uniform’ policy about clothes. Other children feel that they are being pressurised by their peers into wearing make-up and that they would prefer if there was a clear ban from the school on wearing make-up. One or two have said that those children wearing make-up are subtly bullying those who don’t by asserting that ‘cool’ people wear make-up and those who don’t (or aren’t allowed) ‘aren’t cool’.

Teachers, too, are differing in opinion. In addition to the opinions of the children as stated above further issues are emerging. Some teachers feel that the children who wish to wear make-up must be respected in their choice to do so and that the issue does not vary from similar discussions about, for example, jewellery where the only ban is on the kind of jewellery that might cause a health and safety risk or concern. However, many teachers feel that the school should ban the wearing of make-up outright. These teachers feel that wearing make-up to school reflects the exploitative and early-sexualisation desire of many companies and interests in the fashion industries for their own gain. Similarly, these teachers feel that the school should be a safe-haven from these forces for all children, both those who are wearing the make-up and those who are not.

Parents, too, differ in their opinions. Some parents of children who are wearing make-up will assert that this is the world the children are living in and that the children are wearing make-up in other social situations, so why not school. Other parents feel that it would assist them greatly in their domestic battle against the wearing of make-up if the school simply banned it.

We would like ot make a decision shortly on ths matter and your comments to this Blog cold be of great benefit to us in this process. So please comment.

Integration of Children with Special Educational Needs

In the late 1990s, in keeping with international practice, Ireland began to prioritise a policy of educating children with Special Educational Needs(SEN) alongside all children in the mainstream classes of local primary and secondary schools. This was presented to the public as ‘inclusion’, and , of course, ‘inclusion’ of all children is both a noble aspiration and indicative of a respect for children’s rights. In practice, therefore, what had begun was the shutting down of Special Schools where some children with Special Educational Needs might have been catered for their care, educational and even medical and therapeutic needs and these children were, instead, to be offered places in mainstream schools in either the mainstream classroom or in special units/classes within these local standard mainstream primary schools.
Teachers concerns at this time were manifold. For example, a primary teacher’s qualification trains the teacher for mainstream teaching of a broad childcentred national curriculum, the specific pedagogies and curricula for teaching children with Special Education Needs are not covered in these degree and post-graduate courses. Teachers were concerned whether they would be offered this very specific and specialist training. Similarly, a mainstream primary teacher will teach all his/her lessons in a ‘differentiated’ manner catering for children with the range of abilities one might expect in the mainstream class. This is a considerable challenge but one that the competent and committed teacher is trained to achieve. Children with Special Educational Needs, however, often do not fall within these ranges and the curriculum choices, behaviour-management strategies, health and safety protocols, pedagogical choices, classroom resources etc.for the mainstream class are inadequate and ineffective.
As a result of these debates the National Council for Special Education was set up with view to the provision to mainstream local standard peimary schools the supports that would make it possible for such schools to simultaneously cater for the needs fo the newly enroling children with Special Educational Needs and for the pre-existing committment to all other children in the school to educate them according to the best practice described in the National Curriculum. There was to be no compromise envisaged on the standard of education and care that both sets of children were to experience The children with Special Educational needs were to get the standards of specific needs-based education and care that they would otherwise have been provided in the Special School setting. The children in the mainstream school were to get the standard of education in their mainstream classroom irrespective of whether a child with considerable special education needs had been enroled in that classroom.
In 2011, in my professional opinion, we have now reached a point in time where the failure of this vision must be made public and debated openly. In schools up and down the country school leaders ( Principals, Senior Teachers, Chairpersons of Board of Management) will tell you that the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) are failing schools in their schools’ aspiration to provide a world-class high-achieving education for all children. An erosion of the basic philosophic stance that schools are about the maximal education of each and every child according to his/her talents is underway and ,disconcertingly, seems to be lead by the NCSE. Children with Special Educational Needs have had the understanding that their education, which involves education, care and therapy, are not having this provided for them in the manner that was originally envisaged in mainstream settings. Similarly, the other children in the classroom are having their education compromised by the lack of support, especially the presence of a Special Needs Assistant, to the class teacher for any child enroled in that class with Special Education Needs.
I recently attended a talk given by a senior figure from the National Council for Special Education where, in my opinion and in the opinion of all the other Principals who were present, he suggested that schools were failing to deploy the supports for Special Educational Needs, and especially Special Needs Assistants ( SNAs) adequately or appropriately. He outlined the necessity for the SNA to be only involved in the ‘quasi-medical’ care needs of children with special educational needs. As he spoke I felt he was describing a role for an SNA akin to a ‘school nurse’ who might flit from room to room toileting one child here, feeding another child there, popping over to take a diabetes count in another room and sprinting back to another room to dress another child: all of which could be comfortably done according to a pre-set timetable and perhaps a pager system. He never spoke about the neceessity of ‘presence’ to a child with Special Educational Needs for both the child with SEN and for the teacher/other children. His vision of the SNA role was not one that would envisage that the child with SEN might be facilitated on-the-spot with the appropriate assistance that may allow him/her to access the teacher-directed lesson that is underway in the room, or may quickly curb an inappropriate action/response from the child with SEN that would compromise the learning situation that the teacher has crafted for all of the children.
The word ‘education’ did not seem to be a priority for this senior officer from the National Council for Special Education in his outlining of the role of the SNA. From a teacher and school leader perspective, the ‘presence’ of an SNA for a child with special educational needs is of major importance. It is the presence of the SNA that allows for the child with special educational needs to become present/participative/attuned in a scaffolded ( and not dependency-creating) manner to the work of the teacher, the business of learning. It is in this atmosphere and protocol that the child with Special Education needs can get the education that he/she needs and , simultaneously, for the rest of the children in the classroom not to have their education compromised. Please leave a comment.

Why do we have a Feile na Gaeilge?

This year will see our first ever Feile Na Gaeilge. This has come about as part of our self-evaluation of our work in the school for our first five years and the development of our 2nd Five Year Plan. The goal of Feile na Gaeilge is to raise the profile of our competence and successes in teaching the Irish language to our children and in developing in the children a sense of Irish identity as part of our citizenship project.
In our school twenty three different languages are spoken amongst our school community. Many of our children are routinely bilingual or even trilingual. In this context the teaching of the Irish language and the children’s acquisition/learning of the Irish langauge is done on the fertile ground of such linguistic skills and experience. This is evidenced in the children’s standards of attainment in the Irish language which is comfortably in keeping with the currciculum guidelines and standards and matches, if not surpasses, those of any other school patronage or type. Feile na Gaeilge aims to bring the fun and focus that only a ‘special event’ can bring and, now, has a place on our annual calendar with Human Rights Month ( October), Arts Week (late November) and Get Active Week ( June). Thanks to the school’s Parent Association and Board of Management, for the generous financial assistance which makes all this possible.
A further purpose of Feile na Gaeilge is the celebration of Irish identity and culture. All of our children are Irish citizens and the sense of citizenship that is the aim of our Educate Together school is the development of a future citizen that can engage and actively-participate in a future Ireland. This Ireland of the future is a nation that is simultaneously refelctive of our multifaceted identities but also our willingness to act in solidarity with one another in the common cause of making Ireland a good place for us all to live. The ability and willingness of all the children in our school community to add their knowledge-of and affinity-to Irish language, games, visual art, music, drama and literature to the richness of their own ‘home’-cultures will serve them well in this aspiration. Let the fun begin /ar aghaidh linn leis and Feile. Bi cainteach, bi pairteach! Please feel free to leave a comment!

Message to school community on the sudden bereavement of Roisin

It is with the greatest sadness and sense of loss that I wish to make it known to all of our school community and the wider communities of Balbriggan and Educate-Together of the untimely death of Roisin Connolly, our loved teacher and colleague. Roisin lost her young life in a tragic car accident in the early hours of this morning outside Carrickmacross, Co Monaghan which also claimed two other lives. Her husband, Stephen, has been badly injured. Roisin’s and Stephen’ unborn baby, Catherine, perished along with her mother.

I wish to express our community’s sympathy to the Langan (Fanad, Co Donegal) and Connolly ( Portarlington, Co Laois) families at this moment of unfathomable grief.

I welcome those of our school community  and from the wider public, who wish to do so, to express their condolences through the comment facility attached to this message. I will ensure to print out and pass on all the condolences messages to Stephen and the Connolly and Langan families. In response to the huge uptake of this facility we will keep this ‘book of condolences’ open until mid-January. I wish to express my own gratitude to those staff, parents, children, members of the wider Educate-Together community and members of the public who have done so to date.  Your comments will assuredly bring some solace and peace to Catherine (mother), Eileen ( sister) and Stephen ( husband).

Over the coming week the teachers and school management  will draw up and deliver an appropriate response and strategy for when the children return  on Monday 11th. I wish to reassure parents that this response will be appropriate to the age of the children and our religous and cultural diversity.  We have consulted with support agencies and will bring our highest sense of professionalism to the weeks and months ahead. Our ‘guidelines’ to teachers will be made available in the school office to any concerned parent to peruse, and I will be available anytime to discuss any emerging issues; the office door is always open. Similarly, I would ask that all our parents take the time to talk about  Roisin’ s death with your own children in advance of returning to school.

2nd Cold Snap Thursday 23rd December

The school will be closed on Thursday 23rd December. This decision has been made by the school’s Board of Management in due regard for its Health and Safety responsibilities. The school will reopen on Monday 10th January at 8.45am.

It is with great regret that we cannot proceed with the Winter Concerts on the assigned day, and we acknowledge the disappointment that the whole school community: teachers, principal, parents and children alike, will feel about this. The Winter Concerts will proceed from 11.30am to 2.30pm on Friday 14th January, a parent newsletter nearer the time will set out the details.

In the meantime, on behalf of the school board I wish all of our school community a happy holiday. It has been a magnificent term with huge strides made in the children’s learning and in the achievement of the school’s 2nd Five Year Plan. I wish to thank all parents for their support and generosity of spirit throughout the term. I also wish to thank all the school staff for their committment , generosity and professionalism throughout the term. Here’s looking forward to a prosperous and successful 2011.

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