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Esker ETNS - 'Truly an inspiration to all of us'

Paul Rowe, CEO, Educate Together

Paul Rowe, CEO of Educate Together, at the opening of the new Esker Educate Together NS building in Lucan, Co. Dublin on 17 June 2015. 

I am really delighted to be here. This is a wonderful day. A really special day. This is one official opening of a wonderful new Educate Together school building that I have been waiting for and looking forward to for a very long time. This is a tremendous day, a day to celebrate the fantastic achievement of a community, a school community, a group of outstanding teachers and educationalists, committed parents and a superb group of children.

Minister, you will see today another example of what it means when a school is fashioned and built to actually live out the Educate Together ethos.

The Educate Together ethos is built on an absolute legal obligation to provide equality of access and esteem to children irrespective of their social, cultural or religious background. To be truly learner-centred to the approach to education, to genuinely address the issues of gender and other stereotyping in the educational process and to encapsulate this in a real democratic partnership between the intense personal interest of a parent in their children’s education and the objective and professional role of the teacher.

It is an ethos that is delivered through a profound ethical education curriculum that delivers true moral and spiritual development of the individual, that imbues a passion for equality and justice, that provides a deep and detailed intercultural education that includes different philosophical stances and different cultural and religious perspectives. It also promotes an active attitude towards sustainability in our society, and promotes ethical behaviour in relation to the environment. We think, and the people who come from other countries to examine our approach realise, that this must be the focus of world education today. This is all about the future of this generation of children. Of the four-year olds who will start in this school this September, over half of them will see the twenty-second century. We have to prepare this generation of children in schools for that future.

On a beautiful sunny day in 2007, myself and Jane McCarthy, Educate Together’s New Schools Officer, were invited to a meeting in Johnstown House, Enfield. We were asked if we would be prepared to open a school in Lucan on an emergency basis in a few months time. We agreed on the basis that a proper grant was available for us to hire the staff to work on the project and that there would be a permanent building for the school within two years.

None of us at that meeting ever thought that in those next two years, the economy would crash and the bottom would fall out of our public finances. The school had to open in shared accommodation in Adamstown Castle ETNS, in St. John the Evangelist and in Lucan East ETNS and then in temporary prefabs behind Adamstown Community College. It is only now is that promise has been fulfilled, and I sympathise with the staff of the school that it has taken us so long to get to this point and to thank them, the parents and children for their outstanding work during that period of difficult physical circumstances.

I have been looking forward to this day also because it is the final part of the educational jigsaw in this area. This is the fifth Educate Together school in this area and brings the Educate Together capacity in this part of Dublin to 11 streams. We are now approaching a balanced choice between faith-based and equality-based schools for families in these estates. However it has been a very long and incredibly difficult road for this community. 

Ministers, this should not have had to happen. These huge housing estates should not have been built without schools and with inadequate social facilities. I would like to appeal to you and all the political representatives here today that you will make a pledge to the Irish people that never again will thousands of houses be built without the early and timely provision of schools. I appeal to you to change the law so that in Ireland, as in other countries, a school must be provided before a developer can finish more than 100 housing units.

I would also appeal to you and all the political representatives here present, as you polish your election manifestos and your 1916 commemoration speeches, that you reflect on this line of the Proclamation: 

'The Republic guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens, and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and of all its parts, cherishing all of the children of the nation equally...'

I would appeal that you will make a pledge that in today’s Ireland it is wrong that in 90 per cent of communities, parents have no choice but to send their children to a faith-based school. We call on you to work with Educate Together to ensure that all families in Ireland will have the choice to send their children to a school that delivers the same type of equality of esteem to children as this wonderful school does. We call on you to provide a choice for all families, a choice that fully vindicates our human, intellectual, religious and educational rights. We estimate that we need to build a network of approximately 300 schools. 

The Irish people recently have exultantly said YES to diversity and to treating people equally. Let us make the next 20 years a process of ensuring that our education system reflects this and by saying yes to the provision of schools that guarantee equality of esteem to all the children of the nation, irrespective of their social, cultural or religious background.

That is enough of the politics. This is a day of celebration and for thanking many people. On Educate Together’s behalf, I would like to thank the Minister and her officials, the architects, the builders, the planners and everyone who worked on this project. I look forward to finally signing the formal lease for this building. To Tom Moriarty of Adamstown Castle ETNS and Eddie Fox of Lucan East ETNS and their staff for providing temporary accommodation and particularly to Amy Mulvihill, Educate Together’s Regional Development Officer who steadfastly worked to realise that promise of 2007.

Today is above all about the children and their hopes and futures, I hope you have a great day and remember it for many years to come. I would ask you to remember that it is also a fantastic day for your parents and teachers and that maybe you could ‘cut them a bit of slack’ tomorrow and be super good and helpful because your mammies and daddies and your teachers deserve to have a wonderful day today as well.

But before if finish, there are three people here who I really need to single out for special honour, for a special thanks and for a real tribute. Two of them you have heard from already and one you are shortly to hear. Colette Kavanagh, Peggy Masterson and Tom Costello are true contemporary heroes of the Irish education system. Not only did they take up the challenge of this emergency school in 2007 and made the wonderful educational experience it is today. Not only did they take on trust the promise of a new building, not only did they persevere through all those difficulties, build the wonderful team of teachers you see here today, some of whom are themselves past pupils of Educate Together schools - they developed new educational approaches to diversity, home languages, community relations and other crucially important educational initiatives - they are also three of the key members of the founding team of the second Educate Together school, which opened in Bray in 1981. They then, as young, passionate teachers who wanted to make a difference, took jobs in a new project school in a model of equality that was only just being worked out. I have to tell you all today that they took extraordinary risks with their careers. If Educate Together model failed, they were told that they would not get a teaching job in Ireland again. 

That was and is a huge testament to their character and quality as people, their kindness and the way that they live out the values which we hope enlivens and embodies the Educate Together ethos. 

On my behalf, on behalf the board of directors of Educate Together, on behalf of the whole Educate Together family of school communities, on behalf of educators everywhere, on behalf the Lucan community, I want to say a warm and heartfelt thank you to all three of you.

You are truly an inspiration to all of us.

Address: Educate Together, Equity House, 16/17 Upper Ormond Quay, Dublin 7, Ireland - Charity Number: CHY 11816