The role of the school is to provide an appropriate education for all its pupils. A stable, secure learning environment is an essential requirement to achieve this goal. Schools have autonomy in choosing the resources and programmes that best support the work within their own classrooms.
The Yellow Flag programme aims to support primary and secondary schools to become more inclusive of all cultures and ethnicities, celebrate diversity and challenge racism and discrimination. While respecting schools' autonomy to participate in such programmes, my Department has introduced a number of measures to assist schools in this matter.
My Department's ‘Wellbeing Policy Statement and Framework for Practice (2019)' acknowledges that schools provide opportunities to develop friendships and to respectfully encounter diversity and access support structures. The policy promotes the provision of a whole-school approach at both primary and post-primary level to supporting wellbeing, an approach that has been found internationally to produce a wide range of educational and social benefits for individual children and young people, including increased inclusion, greater social cohesion, increased social capital and improvements to mental health.
Last month, I attended the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Education, Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science to provide an update on a number of issues including the measures that are being taken to prevent and tackle bullying in schools.
During my appearance at the Joint Committee, I announced that my Department will commence a review of its 2013 Action Plan on Bullying and the 2013 Anti-bullying Procedures for Primary and Post-primary Schools.
This review will take account of developments and relevant research since the action plan and procedures were published in 2013 and will specifically consider areas such as cyber bullying and identity based bullying, including gender identity and racist bullying
This work will involve significant consultation and collaboration across my Department, with other Government Departments and Bodies including the Ombudsman for Children, and will also involve consultation with a broad range of education stakeholders, including parents and students.
I also announced that during this school year, my Department’s Inspectorate is prioritising monitoring and gathering information about the implementation of anti-bullying measures in schools across all its inspection types.
As part of this work, the Inspectorate will also identify and report on examples of effective practice in relation to preventing and tacking bullying in schools. This will help provide evidence of the type of bullying that is occurring in our schools and examples of approaches that can be successful in dealing with it. An important part of the Inspectorate’s work will be a focus on the priority actions of schools in relation to promoting a positive school culture and climate.
My Department will continue to address the areas of anti-racism, identity-based bullying and cultural awareness through a suite of supports including the recently revised Stay Safe Programme and the Continuing Professional Development (CPD) to teachers at Primary and Post-Primary level and in initial teacher education. It will ensure that such programmes enable teachers to deal with teaching and learning needs of all students from all cultural backgrounds and provide support for pedagogical practices that promote inclusion.
In addition, curriculum at both primary and post-primary aims to foster inclusivity where equality and diversity are promoted. The Primary Curriculum acknowledges the importance of a balanced and informed awareness of the diversity of peoples and environments in the world. Such an awareness helps children to understand the world and contributes to their personal and social development as citizens of a global community. The curriculum promotes tolerance and respect for diversity in both the school and the community. The Social Personal and Health Education (SPHE) curriculum supports students learning in the areas of inclusion, diversity and counter racism. The SPHE content is complemented by the work carried out in social, environmental and scientific education (SESE) at primary level. SESE enables the child to live as an informed and caring member of local and wider communities.
Under the Framework for Junior Cycle, there are twenty four statements of learning which should inform the programme designed by all schools. One of these statements is: (The student) appreciates and respects how diverse values, beliefs and traditions have contributed to the communities and culture in which she/he lives. This junior cycle short course in CSPE focuses on supporting students in become active citizens through their learning in three strands: Rights and responsibilities, Global citizenship, and Exploring democracy.
As part of the Departments ongoing curricular reform consideration of issues in relation to inclusivity/diversity etc. will be considered as part of the ongoing reviews in relation to the primary curriculum and senior cycle at post-primary.