“Thy people shall be my people” Ruth 1:16

“Thy people shall be my people” Ruth 1:16
Integrated schools in the 21st century: Annual ‘All Children Together’ Dunleath lecture
by Eilish BOSCHERT and Allan LEONARD for Shared Future News
7 March 2018

The Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education (NICIE) welcomed their former President, Colm Cavanagh, to present at the 21st annual ‘All Children Together’ Dunleath lecture at Riddel Hall.

NICIE Chief Executive, Roisin Marshall, opened the event, introducing Colm Cavanagh who played a key role in the Department of Education’s recent review of integrated education in Northern Ireland.

Cavanagh began with a review of the religious and political context of education in Ireland, noting that societal conflict has not been a religious or theological war:

“The word ‘transubstantiation’ was never attached to a bomb. ‘Ne Temere Decree’ was never graffitied on a wall. Nor was ‘Salvation by Grace Alone’ ever recorded on a pipe bomb.”

Yet, he continued, religious affiliation has been used to identify individuals for political purposes or worse — to determine which among a group should be shot and killed.

Cavanagh gave the second annual Dunleath lecture in 1998, and now reflected on what happened to the hope of the Good Friday Agreement in the intervening years. He quoted from the Book of Ruth (1:16):

“She answered: Be not against me, to desire that I should leave thee and depart: for whithersoever thou shalt go, I will go; and where thou shalt dwell, I also will dwell. Thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God. The land that shall receive thee dying, in the same will I die: and there will I be buried. The Lord do so and so to me, and add more also, if aught but death part me and thee.”

Cavanagh’s explanation of the Bible verse is of a total yielding of oneself to another: a spiritual journey. He contrasted this with one of a politician:

“‘Jesus’, as a UDA man once remarked to me, ‘made a good prophet. But he would have made a bloody awful prime minister.’”

Years of endogamy

Covering tension between the Irish and English from the 1300s on, Cavanagh highlighted the ways in which hundreds of years of endogamy and separate education have contributed to contemporary Northern Ireland’s incapacity to reconcile in a productive and integrative manner:

1537: The Act of Supremacy debarred Catholics from keeping a school and from university degrees. An Act of English Orders, Habits and Language introduced a state system of education to assimilate the Irish to English culture as well as to the new Reformed Protestant faith.

1567: The Statutes of Kilkenny forbade English people in Ireland from marrying an Irish person; speaking Irish; using an Irish name; letting an Irish clergyman enter an English religious house; etc.

1570: The Dublin Parliament passed an Act for the Erection of Free Schools, which required a free school to be provided in every diocese and for the schoolmaster to be an Englishman.

1592: Trinity College Dublin accepts only Anglicans (no Presbyterians, Catholics, or any other faiths).

1695: An Act made it illegal for Catholics to go for education abroad and forbade them to keep a public school at home.

1733: Charter schools were established, but the scholars could only be educated on a Protestant basis, so found no favour with the Catholic bishops or mass of people.

Efforts toward integrated education have consistently failed since the 1830s — including current efforts despite surveys suggesting that 70-80% of the general population supports integrated education in principle.

First failure of a single school system

In 1831, the British Chief Secretary, Edward Stanley, set up a fund to grant-aid new ‘National Schools’ across Ireland. The system that Stanley wanted “from which should be banished even the suspicion of proselytism”. His perspective was that government manages the civic life of the population, while churches provide spiritual guidance to a supernatural truth.

As Cavanagh explained, while the Catholic Church agreed to the National School scheme, the Church of Ireland did not, nor did the Presbyterian Church, and both refused to participate. Indeed, as the study of the gospel was the rationale for Presbyterian commitment to literacy in Scotland and Ireland, secular classrooms were unacceptable.

Consequently, most Catholics, Anglicans, and Presbyterian children went to their respective denominational schools.

Second failure of a single school system

In 1923, the first Minister for Education in Ireland, Lord Londonderry, passed an Education Act that forbade religious discrimination in the appointment of teachers, as well as forbidding the use of denominational literature in government-funded schools.

The Catholic Church decided not to participate (preferring to keep managing their own schools) and the Protestant churches organised a pressure group that resulted in the legislation being amended so that teachers could be selected on religious grounds and would be compelled to provide ‘simple bible instruction’ to pupils. With this failure, Lord Londonderry resigned his ministerial post.

Third failure of a single school system

The programme for government in the 1974 power-sharing Executive included ‘shared education’, defined as “the introduction of integrated education, teaching Catholic and Protestant children side-by-side in the same classrooms”.

This power-sharing Executive collapsed on 28th May, in the aftermath of the Ulster Workers’ Council strike.

The realisation of integrated education

Yet in the same year, Cecil Linehan and Betty Benton formed the group, All Children Together, which promoted integrated education. Their efforts led to the establishment of Lagan College, the first, formally integrated school in Northern Ireland, in 1981.

In 1987, supporters and schools formed an umbrella group, the Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education (NICIE).

At this time, Brian Mawhinney MP (born in Belfast; representing Peterborough), served as a junior minister in the Northern Ireland Office, with responsibility for education. He persuaded Northern Ireland churches to design a common Christian religious curriculum, and he delivered the Education Reform (NI) Order in 1989, which compelled upon Government “the duty to encourage and facilitate the development of integrated education, that is to say the education together at school of Protestant and Roman Catholic pupils”. To meet this duty, the Department of Education funded NICIE for this work.

In 1992, the Department of Education established the Integrated Education Fund (IEF) as an independent charity, to further the financing of integrated education. IEF has raised over £20 million to date.

A review

In January 2016, Professor Margaret Topping and Colm Cavanagh were commissioned to undertake an independent review of integrated education in Northern Ireland. The completed report was published on 2 March 2017 and contains 39 recommendations, which includes:

No more ‘turnaways’: that no applicant to an integrated school should ever be turned away (e.g. 28 of 65 integrated schools were oversubscribed at first preference stage in 2016)
Promote and plan integrated schooling: i.e. it should be the duty of Government to promote, as well as to encourage and facilitate, integrated education
Teacher training: that all teacher training should include cross-community training, to prepare students to teach in any publicly-funded school; also, that the exemption from fair employment legislation (i.e. ability to discriminate) for the appointment of post-primary teachers should be abolished
“Open and welcoming schools”: for schools that do not wish to become formally integrated, that there be an “Open and welcoming” kitemark of indicators to demonstrate their openness to any applicant

Achieving growth

Using theories of innovation, Cavanagh argued that the ‘tipping point’ for normalising the provision of integrated education is 16%; with one in 14 currently attending an integrated school presently, this is about halfway there.

Another rule of innovation is that “the new product must actually be an improvement, and the cost of moving away from the existing product must be low enough to encourage the change”. For Cavanagh, this means that integrated schools must be excellent in standard, and that the transformation process into an official integrated school status must be attractive, not problematical.

So the role of teachers is to ensure the best education experience; the role of supporters of integrated education, argued Cavanagh, is to convince the Government of the usefulness of having integrated schools.

“We’ve come a long way and the tide is flowing in our favour — from one integrated school to 63, from 28 pupils to 23,000. Indeed, in the 21 years since the first Dunleath lecture, 29 new integrated schools have opened,” Cavanagh declared.

He quoted Lord Brian Mawhinney, addressing representatives of the integrated schools movement at the Westminster All-Party Committee on Northern Ireland, in June 2008:

“The work you do is very, very important. It may appear slow and you may think progress is very limited. But at some stage your work will bring about a tipping point in society. I do not know how many schools that tipping point will be: 100 schools? 200 schools? But you will then be seen to be the answer and your work will be mainstream. So always be conscious of just how important your work is. And keep at it.”

Cavanagh said that he would love those words of encouragement to be framed on the walls of the staff room and governors’ room in every integrated school in Northern Ireland, as well as in the offices of NICIE and the IEF.

Photos published with kind permission (c) Declan Roughan; see more: https://www.facebook.com/niciebelfast/posts/1705178226195664
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