Educate Together is the representative organisation of the Educate Together schools and associations throughout the Republic of Ireland. It owes its origins to the movement to establish new multi-denominational primary schools, which emerged in the late 1970s and early 1980s. By 1984, when Educate Together was established, there were three schools and the organisation acted as their co-ordinating body. Since then the movement has grown considerably.
Today Educate Together has a network of 74 primary schools and three second-level schools nationwide. Educate Together opened its first school in England (Bristol) in 2014. The organisation became a company limited by guarantee in 1998 and has charitable status. It has a small national office which provides representative and support services to existing schools and start up groups. The Directors and members of the company work in a voluntary capacity.
Educate Together aims to meet a growing need in Irish society for schools that recognise the developing diversity of Irish life and the modern need for democratic management structures. In particular, Educate Together guarantees children and parents of all faiths and none equal respect in the operation and governing of education.
The schools operated by the member associations of Educate Together are fully recognised by the Irish Department of Education and Science and work under the same regulations and funding structures as other national schools. However, they have a distinct ethos or governing spirit. This has been defined in the following terms:
*Multi-denominational – children of all denominations and none are equally welcome into our schools.
*Co-educational – Educate Together schools are open to girls and boys and gender stereotyping is addressed and challenged.
*Child-centred – this applies not only to teaching and learning within the classroom but to all decisions at staff and management level, which must have the well-being of the children at their heart.
*Democratically-run – parents are viewed as a positive resource for the school. Parental involvement is welcomed and encouraged, where appropriate. The professional role of the teacher is validated at all times.
Whilst the concepts of child-centredness and co-educationalism are now widely accepted in Irish primary education, what distinguishes the Educate Together schools is their hard work in developing a culturally inclusive and democratic ethos. This has pioneered unique approaches to inclusion of minority opinions and faiths in the Irish context. The schools have developed education programmes which open the eyes of children to the naturally positive contribution that social, religious and cultural diversity and difference of viewpoint and opinion make to society.
In place of religious instruction programmes, which are taught in denominational schools, Educate Together schools teach the Learn Together Ethical Education Curriculum. This curriculum has four strands:
Moral and Spiritual – children learn about feelings and values, the development of conscience, choices and consequences, stillness and meditation.
Equality and Justice – children learn about wants and needs, rights and responsibilities; the promotion of equality and the nature of democracy locally (student councils are encouraged), nationally and globally.
Belief Systems – children learn about the rites and ceremonies, celebrations, key figure and beliefs and values of the six main world religions: Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism and Sikhism. Schools also address Atheism, Agnosticism and Humanism.
Ethics and the Environment – children learn about appreciation and stewardship of the natural world. Educate Together schools have an ethos of respect, diversity & inclusion.
The other characteristic feature of these schools is that they are democratically organised and governed. This maximises the potential for building a genuine partnership between the professional, objective role of the teacher and the necessarily personal involvement of the parent in contributing to their children’s education.
Educate Together is facing unprecedented demand for places in its schools, for increased services to schools, and is under pressure to open new schools in new areas. It is also being urged to promote its philosophy in the wider context of secondary education and pre-school provision. This growing demand can be attributed to objective factors in modern Irish life, namely the rapid diversification of society, economic growth, increasing population, globalisation of the economy and improved communications. It is also attributed to the increasing demand of Irish parents to participate as partners in the educational process and a wish that their children should grow up at ease with social, religious and cultural difference.