29 Feb

Don’t Give Up For Lent

At a time of severe cutbacks forced on schools it seems contrary to be looking for luxuries to sacrifice voluntarily. Of course for those of a particular spiritual or religious bent self-denial is part of self-discipline and in forcing our minds away from material desires we can in theory concentrate on higher matters.

But for many – even those without any particular religious commitment –  there seems to be a tradition of forgoing for Lent.  Maybe I’m just excusing my gluttonous, slothful nature, but self-denial seems rather unproductive and almost self-indulgent when so many people nowadays go without not out of a sense of noble sacrifice but because they have no choice.  I’m glad to see various charities urging the public to give something rather than give something up. (more…)

14 Feb

Time For The Executive To Put Its Money Where Its Mouth Is!

Trevor Lunn MLA and Marie Cowan, Chair of the IEF Board of Trustees, seen pictured with pupils from a recent PACT project in Holywood.

By Marie Cowan, Chair of the IEF Board of Trustee’s

There is at last a growing acknowledgement among politicians, officials and wider civic society that sharing within and between schools represents good value and good practice. It is expressed in the draft Programme for Government, with its acknowledgement of collaboration in education as a crucial element in a shared future.

The Integrated Education Fund has been pioneering sharing between schools of all management types for more than a decade.    We are very proud of the work done by schools of all types under our Promoting a Culture of Trust (PACT) scheme since it was first launched by Senator George Mitchell and supported by the Northern Ireland Fund for Reconciliation twelve years ago.   We continue to be grateful for continuing support from donors. (more…)

9 Feb

“Have faith in my work – ‘fluffy’ it is not!”

I am a  Catholic teacher in an integrated primary school.  I find it depressing that there are implicit criticisms of me, and others like me, in the reports of Bishop McKeown’s  World Peace Day address. Many of us have worked hard to build up good relationships with local Priests; in some cases this work has been in the face of active lobbying against schools in their parishes. I want to be anonymous because I don’t want to threaten the links we have made after so much effort on all sides.  The position apparently held by Bishop McKeown undermines that effort and insults our commitment to the education of young people.

I can think of nowhere that a local priest will get a warmer welcome than an Integrated primary school because it is recognition of the work we Catholic teachers are doing.  (more…)

30 Jan

To “See ourselves as others see us”

There are a few additions to the IEF website this week – I’ve been watching the “history of sharing” video in the Community section.

Thanks to Tim McGarry’s unique presentation style the film is amusing. I started writing this on Burns’ Day and it strikes me that perhaps the only honourable response when we (anyone), in the Scottish Bard’s words, “see ourselves as others see us” is to laugh.    But the video isn’t just a joke – it gives a brief roundup of various attempts over nearly two centuries to eliminate segregation from the education system on this island. (more…)

23 Jan

Response to the Bishop: Developing The Whole Person!

By Anne Odling-Smee

(As featured in the Irish News 18th Jan 2012)

I am a Catholic who served for 12 years on an Education and Library Board and have also had the privilege to be a governor for many years of both controlled and integrated schools.    I was dismayed – though, in honesty, not very surprised – by Bishop Donal McKeown’s comments,  quoted in the Irish News earlier this month.  In an article headlined  “Bishop: diluting religion in schools is unfaithful to God”, His Grace suggests that controlled or integrated schools teach only “fragmented information”; the implication is insulting and ignorant and certainly does not accord with my experience.   The article takes the Bishop’s address for World Peace Day as a challenge to supporters of a single education system, and quotes him as saying:  “The Holy Father is clear that education affects the whole person, and means leading young people to move beyond themselves, and leading them to a reality, toward a fullness that leads to growth.”   Many would agree with His Holiness; my issue is that the Bishop, or perhaps the Irish News, seeks to give the impression that there is only one type of school which offers this. Yet all schools in Northern Ireland include religious studies in their teaching and a Christian element in their governance – and certainly maintained schools are not the only establishments to teach and discuss justice and peace as the Bishop also implies. It would be difficult to find a school of any type which did not have as its aim the development of the whole person. (more…)

9 Jan

Spend Less on Sharing

By Dennis Loretto

THE commitment to greater collaboration in the Programme for Government and in recent political speeches is encouraging. It is essential that the integrated education movement contributes to any consultation on sharing. I would expect the experience of integrated schools to be taken seriously by anyone mapping out a shared future for Northern Ireland.

There has been a focus recently, from politicians and the media, on sharing projects between schools, as an example of how we can work together across traditional divides to enhance the education experience of young people. Clearly the prevalence of programmes and projects like this are firm evidence that most people want to look beyond traditional divisions and reach out to the rest of their wider community. Opinion polls consistently show that when it comes to education, the majority of people want to see their local schools welcoming everyone, cherishing diversity and promoting inclusion.

Yet if the Executive is planning to promote sharing between schools, it is missing a vital opportunity to encourage cohesion whilst saving money. There are about a thousand projects promoting cross-community collaboration between schools, but very little of this activity is currently funded by the state. These schemes, apart from the Entitlement Framework for post-16 courses, operate outside the normal everyday life of the schools, and need targeted support. At present most are dependent on charitable funding. This cannot last forever; indeed many of the current schemes promoting sharing in education have a specific lifespan. Will statutory funding be found to maintain the work, in these times of budget cuts so severe that schools are already making cutbacks? We are not making progress towards a shared future, but relying rather on an artificial, temporary measure which barely begins to address the needs and wants of communities ready for collaboration and diversity.

The economic crisis means we literally can’t afford to move slowly on this; we have to find ways of sharing not specific activities but resources, spaces and time. The sixty-two integrated schools provide models for the way forward.A truly integrated system is sustainable and progressive, offering a rich and stimulating educational environment where each child’s identity is welcomed and cherished. Short-term schemes which mask divisions without demolishing them, take us only a short way towards where we want to be.


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