Equality Challenge Posed to Schools

‘Diversity at School’ was launched by the Equality Authority today, Thursday, 27th January, 2005. This new publication explores the issues of diversity across the nine grounds covered by the equality legislation as it relates to equality and education provision.

Niall Crowley, CEO of the Equality Authority, speaking at the launch stated that “Schools are a microcosm in society in terms of the diversity present among the student population. Girls and boys, children from different family types, gay and lesbian children, infants through to young adults, children with disabilities, and children of different religions and ethnicities are all present. If schools are to be inclusive of this diversity they need to plan for equality. In this way they can be both a model for society and a resource for all pupils across this diversity”.

He continued, “This focus on diversity is key in our search for equality and for schools that are inclusive. Inclusive schools not only have a pupil population characterised by diversity. They secure a participation by all in this diverse pupil population in all areas of school life. They value and respect different pupil identities, experiences and situations. They achieve outcomes in terms of education credentials and personal development for the full diversity of their pupils”.

‘Diversity at School’ raises a broad range of issues to be addressed by those concerned for the emergence of inclusive schools. These relate to difference and the changes required to value and make adjustments for the diversity of staff and pupils. They include issues of segregation, visibility, attainment and experience.

  • Segregation is an issue where gender segregated schooling can constrain subject choices for boys and girls and where denominational schooling can be unhelpful to the establishment of trust between those who belong to different communities of belief. Segregation is an issue where Travellers and people with disabilities still face difficulties in securing access to schools and where student or teacher attitudes can isolate gay and lesbian pupils, pupils with disabilities and Traveller pupils.
  • Visibility is an issue where the curriculum can be dominated by a focus on male writers, scientists and historians and where parity of esteem is not afforded to different family types. It is an issue where curricula are characterised by assumptions of heterosexuality and where Traveller culture and history have little visibility.
  • Attainment is an issue where two thirds of early school leavers are boys, where young women who become pregnant face particular difficulties. It is an issue where isolation of gay and lesbian pupils limits academic achievement and where Traveller drop out rates are a cause for concern.
  • Experience is an issue where harassment and fear of harassment is identified as relevant across many of the nine grounds and where a culture of disrespect for diversity dominates.

‘Diversity at School’ identifies a broad range of good equality practice in the education sector. However it recommends;

  • the need to ensure implementation of current policy and legislation in the field of education with supports for schools to implement an equality focus to their various duties and with appropriate sanctions where education institutions fail to meet these duties.
  • the need to develop school practice so that educational institutions develop equality policies and plans, use positive action to ensure a diversity of pupils are present and address issues of sexual harassment and harassment in their codes of behaviours.
  • the need for national policy making and planning to be developed with the participation of organisations from across the nine grounds and on the basis of adequate equality data.

Speaking at the launch Niall Crowley highlighted a “concern at the growth of Equality Authority casefiles in relation to educational establishments under the Equal Status Act. In 2001 these involved 3% of those casefiles. 15% of current casefiles relate to educational establishments”. He also highlighted a source of optimism on the basis of “the shared commitment witnessed by the Equality Authority to the inclusive school and the history of endeavour by the partners in education towards this goal”.

‘Diversity at School’ is published jointly by the Equality Authority and the Institute of Public Administration. It was edited by Professor Kathleen Lynch of University College Dublin and Dr. Anne Lodge of St. Patrick’s College Maynooth.

Ends

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