Church of Ireland parishes and schools are welcome to attend this online discussion (on Thursday, 14th September, from 7.30pm) with the Board for Ministry with Children and Families, Prayer Spaces Ireland, primary school principal Carolyn Good, and the Play It By Ear drama group. Please sign up here through our booking form to express your interest in joining our event: https://form.jotform.com/232403432094346
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.
Christians can model a warm sense of covenant and hospitality in how they provide education on behalf of the state, leading educationalist Professor Trevor Cooling said on Monday evening (20th March) as he delivered the Church of Ireland’s 65th Annual Theological Lecture at Queen’s.
Professor Cooling, from Canterbury Christ Church University, was speaking at Stranmillis University College, which is currently marking its centenary year. He suggested that there is a difficulty when facts are elevated above values as everyone interprets knowledge in certain ways depending on the values which they hold. “We are all people of faitph,” he remarked, “because knowledge is not just something ‘out there’ – it is personal; it is something we interact with as human beings.”
Drawing on the thinking of Bishop Lesslie Newbigin, he noted that the Church had a role in preparing lay people for their vocation and in order to do this well, lay people also need to think very carefully about their context. The theologian Professor NT Wright, for example, has compared applying the Bible in modern societies to discovering an unfinished Shakespearean play with four chapters already written and asking a group of specialists to write endings for it. The result should be “consistent with the authority of the first four acts but will be innovative, depending on the interests and concerns of the specialist writer.”
One innovative application, highlighted by a research project which studied teachers working in church schools in England, was made by a PE teacher who explored how he could teach the push–pass in hockey. This meant teaching the move and then encouraging students to partner in twos and help each other to improve their performance, therefore modelling a Christian theology of servanthood rather than the populist influence of élite performance.
In another setting, a primary school teacher explored how practical hospitality to the stranger (as lived out through the Old and New Testaments) can be a very positive value in our society today. In a science lesson, co–operating as a group in a way that makes the newcomer feel like a contributor, with a curiosity about his or her views, also shows the Christian faith in practice in schools (as well as developing an understanding of how scientific teams work). Teachers who wish to explore this theme can find out more on the www.whatiflearning.com website, which is intentionally built around concrete examples of teachers connecting Christian faith with their teaching.
This approach also reshapes how we think about salvation, so that we think in terms of God’s promised new Heaven and new Earth, and the promise of a resurrected life to share in that reality. Professor Cooling concurred with NT Wright’s conclusion that what we do with our lives “in the present matters because God has a great future in store.” Christian teachers therefore have an important role as providing a faithful presence and as ambassadors of God’s Kingdom – a life defined by being lived in God’s way that points to God’s promised future – in the places where they serve.
In a diverse society, he outlined two approaches to disagreement – the consensus of conforming to a ‘secular’ position, or being part of a coalition whereby people who fundamentally disagree with each other live well together in the same space. And, in conclusion, he noted that covenant in a biblical sense offered a powerful theological model for church schools where everyone is valued and feels that they belong.
Professor Cooling’s career has taken him from working as a secondary school teacher to lecturing in theology, and serving as a diocesan adviser and as CEO of a Christian education charity. He also chairs a primary school board of governors. He was welcomed by the Bishop of Down and Dromore, the Rt Revd David McClay, and the College’s Principal, Dr Jonathan Heggarty. Attendees put their questions to him in a thoughtful and wide–ranging Q&A session immediately following the lecture.
Please click on the link below to catch up on the full lecture:
Why should churches be involved in education? Peter Hamill, Secretary of our Board of Education (Northern Ireland) had a chat with Professor Cooling on this question before the lecture.
A full photo gallery from the evening:
With thanks to David Pope for photography and James Poston Films for videography.
The 65th Church of Ireland Annual Theological Lecture at Queen’s
Speaker: Professor Trevor Cooling (Canterbury Christ Church University)
Date & Time: Monday, 20th March 2023 – at 6.30pm
Venue: Stranmillis University College (Drama Theatre)
Religious education has become a hot topic within our schools – from the provision as part of the core curriculum to the provision of collective worship. Some would argue that the influence of RE in schools has undue influence on the lives of children and young people in Northern Ireland. Yet other research has demonstrated concrete examples of teachers connecting faith with their teaching to create positive holistic outcomes. So how can we best understand the relationship between faith and the classroom?
Trevor Cooling is Professor Emeritus of Christian Education at Canterbury Christ Church University, and Chair of the Religious Education Council of England and Wales (REC). Over the course of a career that has taken him from working as a secondary school teacher to lecturing in theology, and serving as a diocesan adviser and as CEO of a Christian education charity, Professor Cooling’s highly-regarded research and writing on the subject has established him as a leading voice in the field. He is fascinated by the contribution that worldviews in general, and Christianity in particular, can make to human flourishing.
In this lecture, Professor Cooling will bring his considerable experience to bear as he unpacks a vision of the relationship between Churches and public education. How can drawing on the rich depths of Christian theology best contribute to educational outcomes? And what does the future of the relationship between faith and schools look like in best practice?
Attendees will also have a chance to put their questions directly to Professor Cooling in a Q&A session immediately following the lecture.
The Revd Danielle McCullagh, Church of Ireland and Methodist Chaplain at Queen’s University Belfast and Stranmillis University College, remarked: “We are absolutely delighted to be able to organise this year’s lecture together with our friends at Stranmillis College. It is an opportunity to continue celebrating the College’s recent centenary, and also our strengthening ties in chaplaincy.”
Dr Peter Hamill, Secretary of the Church of Ireland’s Board of Education (Northern Ireland), added: “We are delighted to have Professor Cooling giving this year’s annual lecture. Professor Cooling brings an insightful look at how religion, including the teaching of Religious Education, is viewed in schools in today’s society. The Board is particularly thankful to Stranmillis College for hosting this event in its centenary year.”
A lively discussion involving around 50 representatives from churches, schools and a range of other key organisations with a role in education took place in Portadown, on Friday (25th March 2022) with a view to helping our children and young people to reach their full potential.
The workshop at Seagoe Parish Centre was hosted by the Transferor Representatives’ Council – representing the Church of Ireland, Presbyterian Church and Methodist Churches in relation to education in Northern Ireland – and focused on a new research report from Stranmillis University College, Beyond the Stereotype: Approaches to Educational Under(Achievement) in the Controlled Sector in Northern Ireland.
The study, which was commissioned and funded by the TRC, aims to go ‘beyond the stereotype’ of the well-documented challenge of underachievement among Protestant working-class boys from disadvantaged inner-city communities, and to ‘cast the net wider’ to provide a broader and more representative picture. Particular challenges in rural communities, which have not been reported extensively to date in previous studies, are identified with some school leaders speaking of the difficulty in motivating boys to work hard towards GCSEs.
Significantly, Beyond the Stereotype also finds that while pupils view educational achievement as largely related to success in external exams (such as GCSEs and A-levels), many school and community leaders (including employers) place greater value on a wider range of skills and abilities, and pupils’ mental and physical health, self-confidence, happiness and willingness to learn.
Dr Noel Purdy, who led the research through Stranmillis’ Centre for Research in Educational Underachievement, said: “We’ve certainly identified lots of challenges – there are big challenges facing controlled schools and indeed every school in Northern Ireland – but what we did see was a diverse, committed, community-orientated and innovative sector which is committed to maximising achievement for all children. In other words, allowing all the children in schools to stand tall and achieve to their full potential.”
The TRC represents its member churches in all matters of education in the region, and oversees the appointment of over 1,500 governors to controlled schools. The three churches transferred (hence the origin of transferors) their school buildings, pupils and staff into state control on the understanding that the Christian ethos of these schools would be maintained.
More information on the work of the Centre for Research in Educational Underachievement (CREU) can be found at www.stran.ac.uk/research/creu
Please see gallery below for more photos from the workshop.
The Transferor Representatives’ Council invites you to the Beyond the Stereotype Seminar on Friday, 25th March 2022, between 12.00 noon and 3.00pm at Seagoe Parish Centre, Portadown. The parish centre is attached to Seagoe Parish Church and beside Seagoe Primary School.
This is an event for school principals and all those in church life who are involved with or have an interest in education.
The TRC represents the interests of the Church of Ireland, Presbyterian Church in Ireland, and Methodist Church in Ireland at all levels of education in Northern Ireland.
This is an opportunity to hear more about the recently published research on educational underachievement in Controlled Schools carried out by the Centre for Research in Educational Underachievement, at Stranmillis University College. There will be an opportunity to hear from the research team, discuss the issues raised by the research, and ask any questions you may have.
The full report is available to read and download by clicking here.
Admission is free and lunch will be provided. To book, please go to this link in Eventbrite.
For any further information, please contact Dr Peter Hamill, Secretary to the Transferor Representatives’ Council, at email@example.com
Over 100 teachers, senior leaders, school governors and other education professionals from across the Presbyterian Church in Ireland came together today for ‘PCI Talks Education: A vision for the future in Northern Ireland’. With the launch of the Independent Review of Education providing the backdrop for the conference, delegates welcomed the Minister for Education, Michelle McIlveen MLA, who addressed the morning event, which took place in PCI’s Assembly Buildings in Belfast.
Speaking at the conference, Michelle McIlveen said, “I am very pleased to be invited to speak at your conference today, which has the theme of ‘a vision for the future’. It is heartening to see so many people interested and invested in the future of education in Northern Ireland. I am well aware of the positive impact that the Presbyterian Church in Ireland has on the lives of our children and young people through your various youth ministries, as well as your invaluable contribution to the management of our schools.”
The Minister continued, “The education of our children and young people goes far beyond the Department of Education, or even schools and colleges. It requires the dedication of teachers, governors, parents and many more. The support of local churches, such as yours, is also key in placing schools at the heart of their communities.
“Sessions like today, when we can discuss ethos and vision, consider the strengths and challenges in the current system and build consensus of how we work together to bring improvements, are extremely valuable,” she said.
Having heard PCI’s Moderator, Right Reverend Dr David Bruce, commit the conference to God in prayer, those attending had the opportunity to hear from Dr Andy Brown, Chair of PCI’s State Education Committee. Speaking about the event he said, “Supporting and participating in education has been part of the DNA of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland for over a century. Our church’s history in education is undeniable and enviable, having formed schools in our quest for social justice and a desire to make education accessible. Then as now it is also our desire for children and young people to flourish, reaching their full potential in a nurturing and holistic way.”
Contributing to the morning’s discussions was keynote speaker Dr Irvin Scott, founder of the Harvard University Leadership Institute for Faith and Education. In a recorded address from Cambridge, Massachusetts, Dr Scott noted that while the context of education in the United States and Northern Ireland were, on the one hand very different, the goal of education in both places was very similar. “…[I]n the end we’re after the same thing – a group of students and educators who are achieving at high levels, who are becoming increasingly understanding of one another, who are learning across differences and who are just thriving… that’s what we are ultimately after..” he said.
At the socially distanced event, perspectives from different spheres of the local education system were also heard during the panel discussion. Panellists included Rev Robert Herron OBE, a transferor representative on the board of Northern Ireland’s Education Authority, Dr Barbara McDade from Stranmillis University College, Leanne Dunlop, who is experienced in schools’ ministry through Scripture Union Northern Ireland, and a local principal, Mark Beattie, from The Diamond Primary School in Cullybackey. Delegates were then free to participate in small group discussions on key themes, the feedback from which will inform and shape PCI’s response to the Independent Review.
Speaking at the close of the event, Dr Brown said, “We are grateful to the Minister for Education for taking time to join us this morning and to Dr Scott, for providing us with some thought-provoking insights. Our panel discussion reflected some of the diverse roles that PCI members and other Christian people play in the education system. Another important part of today’s proceedings was the small group engagement, which will provide us with much food for thought, as we seek to respond to the Independent Review of Education positively and creatively.
“We believe that the values and Christian ethos that PCI, and the other churches, cherish and promote in education are healthy and positive for children and young people. At the same time, our partnerships with local schools in our communities are an act of service for the common good. This morning has been an important opportunity to reflect on how, in a changing world, we can continue to be effective in our mission to serve our society, our communities, our families, our children and young people, through constructive leadership and partnership in education.”
Dr Brown concluded by saying. “Many Presbyterian people are involved in education at all levels throughout Northern Ireland, often regarding it as a vocation rather than simply another job and I would like to thank everyone for coming and for their contributions today. In the context of this changing educational landscape, this has been a vital moment for us to pause and consider what that involvement might look like for the next 100 years.”
Echoing Dr Brown’s comments, the Moderator said at the close of the conference, “Today across many areas of life, education included, we find ourselves in a different place than the one we were once used to, which can be both a new experience and somewhat disconcerting. This morning’s conference has been an important opportunity to reflect together and I would like to personally thank everyone for their very positive engagement and extend my warmest thanks the Michelle McIlveen, Irvin Scott, and our panellists for their contributions.
Dr Bruce continued, “The Mission of God is less something we do, it is more something in which we participate, responding to what He is already doing – and God is active in this new secular environment. We give thanks for that, as we partner with Him, reflecting on where we are, reframing partnerships and relationships, while endeavouring to be a blessing in our schools.”
Pictured above are the following participants in the conference:
(1) Minister for Education, Michelle McIlveen MLA and (2) Dr Andy Brown addressing the conference. (3) Members of the panel in discussion. (4) Participants at today’s conference (left to right) Dr Barbara McDade, Rev Robert Herron OBE, Leanne Dunlop and Mark Beattie. Seated are the Moderator Dr Bruce, Michelle McIlveen and Dr Andy Brown who are also pictured (5) in discussion prior to the start of the conference.
The last in the Set Apart series of information evenings on the role of Transferor Governor will be taking place this week in Armagh and Downpatrick. Each evening runs from 7.30pm to 9.30pm (with tea/coffee served from 7.00pm) and all School Governors are invited to come along.
Monday, 25 February
Armagh Synod Hall, 46 Abbey Street, Armagh BT61 7DZ
Wednesday, 27 February
Down Parish Church, Church Avenue, Downpatrick BT30 6EP
This series has been organised by the Transferor Representatives’ Council (TRC) – which represents the Church of Ireland, the Methodist Church in Ireland and the Presbyterian Church in Ireland in education in Northern Ireland – in conjunction with the Controlled Schools’ Support Council.
To reserve a place please contact Mrs Claire Geoghegan (firstname.lastname@example.org) or call 028 9082 8860.
The TRC would wish to thank all those who have volunteered to be Transferor Governors in the school period 2018–2022. These evenings will give us the opportunity to outline the unique role of a Transferor Governor, and to meet with Transferor Governors and find out how TRC and CSSC can support them in their role.
Attendees will be able to meet with members of TRC and find out how TRC represents the Transferor Governors at all levels in education.
If you’re interested in coming along, please do check out the following video which provides an outline of the role, and its opportunities and responsibilities in promoting a Christian ethos in schools.
Almost 30 school governors attended an information evening in Londonderry on Monday evening to learn more about the role of transferor governors in local schools in Northern Ireland. The event, which was addressed by the chairman of the Transferor Representatives’ Council (TRC), Bishop Ken Good, was the first of six information evenings to be held this month in different parts of Northern Ireland.
The Londonderry audience included clergy and lay people from the Church of Ireland, Presbyterian and Methodist Churches in the North West. Those present were told that school governors constituted the largest group of volunteers in any walk of life in Northern Ireland.
The information session in Clooney Hall Centre was organised jointly by the Transferor Representatives’ Council (TRC) and the Controlled Schools’ Support Council (CSSC).
The transferor governors present – some of whom were new to the role – heard presentations from the Secretary to the Church of Ireland’s Board of Education (Northern Ireland), Dr Peter Hamill; the Chairman of the Presbyterian Church’s State Education Committee, Andrew Brown; and the CSSC’s School Support Officer, Heather McKenzie. Also participating was the Secretary of the Methodist Church’s Board of Education, the Rev Dr Fred Munce.
Bishop Good thanked those who attended Monday’s meeting for their service to the community and to education, and prayed that the evening would prove an encouragement to them in their roles on school boards.
The other information sessions for transferor governors will take place in Enniskillen Cathedral Halls (on Wednesday February 6th); Broughshane Presbyterian Church (Monday 11th February); Presbyterian Assembly Buildings, Belfast (Wednesday 13th February); Armagh Synod Hall (Monday 25th February); and Down Parish Church (Wednesday 27th February).
All meetings are scheduled to begin at 7.30pm and finish by 9.30pm. Tea and coffee will be served from 7.00pm.
To reserve a place please contact Mrs Claire Geoghegan (email@example.com) or call 028 9082 8860.
Report and photos by Paul McFadden, Church of Ireland Diocesan Communications Officer for Derry and Raphoe.