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CSSC response to ‘Transforming Education: The Governance of Schools Briefing Paper’

Barry Mulholland, Chief Executive of the Controlled Schools’ Support Council (CSSC) has written to the author of ‘Transforming Education: The Governance of Schools Briefing Paper’.

RE: Transforming Education: The Governance of Schools Briefing Paper 

Please find the full text of Mr Mulholland’s letter below:

The Controlled Schools’ Support Council (CSSC) was disappointed to read the ‘Governance of Schools’ briefing paper which was published on 8 September 2020. Our concerns centre on two key points highlighted in this paper: the assertion that Transferors Representatives’ Council (TRC) Governors perpetuate segregation and the accusation that CSSC has reproduced divisions in education. 

The controlled education sector is the largest education sector in Northern Ireland, comprising 49% of all schools. Controlled schools welcome pupils from all faiths and none, with pupils from all communities, socio-economic and religious backgrounds. Indeed the sector prides itself on and celebrates its inclusivity and diversity.    

The controlled sector is the only education sector in Northern Ireland which contains all schools types: nursery schools, primary schools, post-primary schools (both selective and non-selective) and special schools. It also contains a number of integrated and Irish medium schools.  

Please note, the role of the TRC representatives on Boards of Governors is historical and set out in legislation and arose as a consequence of the transfer of Church schools and properties to the state. In return the controlled sector primary schools and secondary schools in law accommodate a minority of representatives from the TRC on their Boards of Governors. It must be highlighted this does not apply to all controlled schools. There are no TRC representatives on nursery schools, grammar schools or special schools. 

As with all school Governors, TRC Governors are subject to recruitment policies and procedures which are transparent and fair. All Governors in controlled schools including TRC Governors bring a wealth of skills and experience to their roles.  Any suggestion that TRC governors can impact on a school’s ability to welcome and accommodate pupils from all religious backgrounds or that a bias is formed towards one religion over another is incorrect and goes against the values and principles of a Christian ethos.  

As indicated in the report, the development of a vision statement which would underpin a shared collective ethos for the controlled sector was key priority for CSSC from the outset.  

One of CSSC’s first actions as the advocacy body for controlled schools was to organise a series of ‘listening events’ with schools. At these events the concern about the lack of a defined controlled sector ethos was raised time and time again. In conjunction and agreement with the sector CSSC developed the following vision statement: 

“The Controlled Schools’ Support Council supports controlled schools, which are open to all faiths and none, in providing high quality education for children and young people to enable them to learn, develop and grow together, within the ethos of non-denominational Christian values and principles.” 

Ethos permeates through all aspects of school life. A Christian ethos underpins an environment defined by respect, care, compassion, acceptance and thankfulness.  

The ‘Governance of Schools’ briefing paper states that “CSSC (which includes representatives of the transferor churches) has progressed plans for the promotion of a non-denominational (but overtly Christian) ethos in the schools under their auspices” (UU, 2020: 5).  

The promotion of a Christian ethos should not be confused with an alternative agenda of welcoming one type of pupil, teacher or staff member over another. It does not impact upon the ability of schools to accommodate those with non-Christian beliefs or those of no faith. The Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education’s (NICIE) key principals also support the development of a Christian ethos in integrated schools. 

A Christian ethos aims to create a culture of openness and acceptance it does not perpetuate segregation. Any study of controlled schools will reflect on the sector’s inclusiveness and diversity.  

CSSC firmly believes that had your report engaged with controlled schools, the CSSC or the TRC directly the inclusivity of the sector would be apparent, evidenced by a breakdown of pupil characteristics, schools’ efforts in shared education projects and a wide range of initiatives focused on accommodating pupils from all backgrounds. Taking all of this into consideration, I hope you appreciate the hurt and disappointment your report has caused to CSSC and the wider controlled sector.   

Barry Mulholland

Chief Executive