Many pressing issues facing education were highlighted at the Church of Ireland’s recent General Synod when the annual report of the Board of Education was presented and debated. General Synod meets annually and this year’s in-person gathering was in Wexford on Friday, 12th May, and Saturday, 13th May.
Speaking from the perspective of Northern Ireland, the report’s seconder, the Revd Catherine Simpson, said that in aiming to improve the educational experience for children and young people, the Church must focus on supporting children in both formal and informal settings. She highlighted good practice in the northern dioceses of Armagh, Down and Dromore, Connor, Clogher and Derry and Raphoe.
Ms Simpson, who is also a member of the Transferor Representatives’ Council, observed that there had been much reporting about the funding crisis in Northern Ireland and churches were helping to plug the gap in whatever ways they could. However, she said more needed to be done as the lack of investment in the education system would cause social problems in the future. “Now is the time for our churches to invest in our local schools by creating new connections and strengthening existing ones, all the while radiating and demonstrating Christ’s love,” she stated.
She conveyed the thanks of the Board to all who serve as governors, saying: “In an era when some political representatives might like to remove church representatives from Boards of Governors, it is vital to demonstrate the contribution and invaluable impact churches have had on our education system since its inception, with church volunteers on Boards of Governors across Northern Ireland.
“Our school system,” she added, “would not be able to physically function without transferor representatives on Boards of Governors helping with school development plans, finance planning and human resources – all functions of good governance. As a Church, we acknowledge and are grateful for our Christian witness in schools and the Christian ethos that underpins our education system and are grateful for it. Thank you to all those, lay and clergy alike, who serve as trustees and as members of Boards of Governors; we thank you for your hard work and your vital Christian witness.”
She also acknowledged the poor morale among school staff and encouraged all churches to reach out and support schools in every way possible.
In the following discussion, Judith Cairns said she appreciated the work of the Board of Education. She spoke about the Board’s support for Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE). She said that the Church could provide additional support for teachers and in homes. Mrs Cairns expressed concern about the imposition of a compulsory standardisation of what is taught in RSE and urged members to continue to support the input of Christian values in this area.
The Revd Adrian Dorrian said he found being a school governor one of the most fulfilling parts of his ministry. He highlighted the drastic cuts to funding for schools and encouraged the Board of Education to rail against these funding cuts because there was no expectation that the results coming out of these schools would change in any way.
William Oliver also spoke about the lack of funding for schools. He said the situation was unbelievable and that the system of education needed to be transformed so that it could be properly funded.
Concluding the debate, Archbishop John McDowell added his thanks to the Church’s Education Officers for Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, Dr Peter Hamill and Dr Ken Fennelly.