A parent writes

 

To be honest, an unheard voice in education

TBH:I WRITE as a very disillusioned parent coming to the end of my term as a member of the board of management (BOM) of the local Catholic primary school. I, like many naive but well-intentioned parents, felt I had good ideas and could contribute to the betterment of the school. My first dose of reality was at the first meeting which the local priest started with a prayer. As I am not religious I did not join in. Afterwards I was taken aside and told I should join in. When I pointed out I was not a practising Catholic, I was told I should have declared this in advance to the bishop.

We were all given tasks to do to make the job of the principal easier.

I was asked to record the minutes of each meeting, but my notes were then “fine tuned” by the principal and chairman (a retired principal) to remove any element of criticism of the school and to give the appearance of consensus on all issues as these minutes go to the archdiocese.

At these monthly meetings most of the time was given to the approving and reviewing of over 20 policies, each a tombstone of detail where one succinct page would have sufficed.

Over the past few years the board has reviewed two separate bullying claims involving staff. Although the chairperson prepared impeccable paperwork, I don’t believe these claims were given any genuine consideration as the good name of the school might be damaged. Genuine parent complaints were dismissed without discussion. This was one of many issues where the board essentially rubber-stamped what the principal and chairman had already decided in advance of the meeting.

The disconnect between the BOM and teaching staff was shocking. Any fresh ideas were discouraged. A local councillor who sits as a public representative on the board had an attendance record of less than 40 per cent and of the meetings he attended he usually left after 20 minutes.

What became clear to me sadly over the years was that the board is no more than a rubber-stamp mechanism for the management decisions of the principal, priest and church-appointed chairman. There is no meaningful attempt to include the wider school community.

The only benefit I gained was an awareness of how much generally-dedicated teachers have to put up with, not just from unruly children but also a system that stifles creativity and is built on the egos of a few at the top.

Talking to various parents who have sat on school boards, I have found that my experience is not unique. Because of the confidentiality clause, it’s impossible for board members to openly discuss what is wrong with the system.

There is an urgent need to end church patronage if we are to have a quality primary system, which can be a foundation block that nourishes and encourages all our community.