Rolling out Educate Together
My Education Week: Emer Nowlan Head of education and network development, Educate Together
Monday morning brings renewed determination and self-discipline. I maintain a good level of productivity until around lunchtime. Then begins the drift away from thesis writing towards any number of distractions – irrelevant but fascinating journal articles about school completion patterns in Vietnam, the latest gems of educational innovation on the #edchatie Twitter stream, my inbox – until eventually I find myself once more engrossed in the day job even though I am supposed to be on study leave.
It’s a job I love. I’m responsible for teacher education and network development with Educate Together, and there is never a dull moment. I work with a fantastic team of committed people, and if we’re not busy opening new primary schools (five last September), we are working with the the Department of Education and Skills on future provision, developing new in-service courses or meeting with local campaign groups.
The really exciting bit is developing a new type of second-level school.
Five o’clock – creche pick-up time – finds me lost in research material for the new postgrad course in ethical education we are running with St Patrick’s College. Maybe playing hockey later will help clear my head for thesis-writing tomorrow.
A good writing day, so when I bump into my supervisor at University College Dublin at lunchtime I can look her in the eye. My PhD research is with second-level students from Chinese, Filipino and Vietnamese backgrounds. The importance of school ethos and the hidden curriculum is coming through strongly, as well as the different ways racism affects students’ lives, in and out of school. The research is a great way to step back from the day job and put things in perspective.
There is good media interest in tomorrow’s public meeting for an Educate Together second-level school in Dublin city. The announcement last summer of the first three Educate Together schools – set to open in 2014 in Blanchardstown, Drogheda and Lucan – has meant an increase in interest from parents in other areas, and we have to carefully balance (stretch) our limited resources between planning for new schools and supporting families in other areas who also want them.
I turn on Morning Ireland on RTÉ to hear a parent talking about why she wants her children to continue their education within the Educate Together ethos at second-level. They interview Paul Rowe, our CEO, and he talks about the kind of schools we are planning, the ethical curriculum, the focus on key skills and critical thinking, the integrated learning experience and students taking responsibility their own learning. He manages to get it all in. Great coverage, and a quick check shows that the story is doing well in the print and online media too. Good. Now back to the thesis.
Tomorrow’s strategy session is postponed. Coming towards the end of our current business plan, we are working on our strategy to 2020. We will continue to work on meeting the ever-increasing demand for Educate Together school places at primary and second level. We must also keep an eye on quality across a rapidly growing network and provide development and support for teachers on our ethical curriculum. (The main focus is still on faith-based religious education in the colleges of education.) Sustainable income streams are critical too, as less than 10 per cent of our funding is provided by the State.
In the evening the public meeting seems to be going well from what I can see on Twitter. I try to avoid getting too involved in social media in the evenings, but I manage a quick look while my partner is reading the bedtime stories. Our regional-development officer tweets a picture from the meeting: standing room only and plenty of public representatives. Great.
There is an announcement from the Department of Education in our local paper this morning: “Parents are being asked what patrons they want to run their primary schools.” I’m glad they are promoting the survey, which will hopefully pave the way for more Educate Together primary schools in places where parents who want to access them currently can’t, including Cavan, Leitrim, Longford, Mayo, Monaghan, Roscommon and Tipperary.
The North Dublin City campaign group were also meeting last night. They are hoping the patronage survey will result in an Educate Together school for their area, where the existing school receives more than 10 times as many enrolment requests as it has places.
That survey is completed, so demand has already been proven, and the Minister has asked Archbishop Diarmuid Martin to consider how provision might be reconfigured. The patronage-reassignment process seems to have broad support and will hopefully rebalance the system to better match the demand for different types of schools.
Hooray: our new second-level programme manager starts today. I spend the morning talking her through the basics: who’s who, etc. She has great experience, which is just as well, as she will have to hit the ground running. We’re packing for our office move next week. As the network has expanded, from 41 schools when I started in 2007 to 65 in 2012, we have outgrown our small office in a Dublin industrial estate. We managed with a temporary overflow solution for the past three years, but we are all looking forward to sharing the same kettle again.
I keep an eye on the tweets from the Irish Primary Principals’ Network conference: good to hear they are calling on the department to accept digital roll books, a solution we have also proposed as a simple way to cut down unnecessary paperwork.
Being out of the loop on study leave, I’ve been looking forward today’s national forum to catch up on all the great work our volunteer working groups have been doing. The curriculum group have been working on Junior Cycle short courses; the leadership group has been looking at guidelines for incorporating students as members of boards of management. The DIT architecture students who have been working on building-design projects present their work (it turns out one of them is a past pupil): an inspiring end to the week.
This week I was . . .
Borgen, on BBC Four