Group photograph at CSSC 3rd AGM 2019

Resilience of controlled school leaders acknowledged at AGM

CSSC’s 3rd AGM took place in Cookstown on 16 May 2019. Attended by schools and guests from across Northern Ireland, Council was delighted to welcome the choir from Sperrinview Special School who performed a medley of Abba songs followed by a rendition of Somewhere Over the Rainbow accompanied by Makaton signing. Cookstown High School pupils performed a short drama on resilience and overcoming adversity.

The subject of resilience was highlighted by CSSC Chief Executive Barry Mulholland, as he paid tribute to principals and governors, and said

“The year has been marked by exceptional leadership and resilience, evident from controlled principals and governors, set against the most dreadful systemic challenges facing schools in particular and education in general.

He urged Principals to “Never doubt or underestimate the importance of your role in education.  Your dedication, commitment, long hours, skills and knowledge as leaders really does make a difference.  It most definitely inspires staff, ensures quality teaching and learning, instils a positive ethos and culture in controlled schools and improves the life chances of over 143,000 pupils who walk through your doors every day.”

Mr Mulholland spoke of the “unprecedented” challenges facing the education system, including lack of finance; societal perceptions of the education system; the increasing numbers of pupils presenting with special educational needs; bureaucracy; and the focus by some on unofficial ‘league tables’ which ignore the learning, growth and development of the pupil and the added value provided by great teachers in controlled schools. 

“Our leaders and teachers are struggling in terms of feeling undervalued, with resources under attack, increasing workloads, remuneration limitations, issues around conditions of service,” he added.  He then urged management side and the trade unions to resolve the long-running industrial action.

In an appeal to politicians, Mr Mullholland asked them to “please find workable solutions that enable you to get back into government.  Our children need you.”

Other speakers at the AGM included Permanent Secretary Derek Baker, who acknowledged that while times are tough, he was not despondent.  Given that talks are currently underway, he was “hopeful that we will soon have an Education Minister”.

The Permanent Secretary highlighted that schools are building trust at the heart of the community, delivering pastoral care, personal development, reaching out to communities and delivering anti-bullying initiatives, and that “it’s all about the children.  We put this at risk at our peril”.

Sharon O’Connor, chairperson of the Education Authority (EA) took the opportunity to highlight the working relationship that has been built between CSSC and EA.  In terms of finance, the message was clear.  “We don’t have enough money for education”, she said, saying that the EA was “in support of leaders” and that “we need to fund our education system”.

Incoming chairperson of the Transferor Representatives’ Council Rosemary Rainey OBE encouraged controlled schools to “trumpet their achievements” and to frequently publicise the successes within them.  “We ought to have pride in our schools”, Ms Rainey said, who also paid tribute to CSSC and all it had achieved in the past two and a half years.

Keynote speaker for the AGM was Dr Andy Brown, Principal Lecturer in Teacher Education, Academic Head of Arts and Humanities, Stranmillis University College, and Vice-chairperson of CSSC.  Dr Brown presented themes from his research on ethos and resilience within the controlled sector.

Dr Brown highlighted a new model to identify ethos using its ‘interconnectors’ of culture, climate, atmosphere, environment, identity, mission, spirit and values. In applying his ‘ethos test’, he was able to suggest an ethos statement for the controlled sector and also to hypothesise how this ethos is changing in light of the work of CSSC and its vision statement.