The AGM took place in Kildare Town ETNS. Kildare Town ETNS is a school that opened for the first time, also in temporary accommodation, on the same day as us in 2012. They were very lucky to secure their permanent building in 2015 and it was lovely to visit and see how a school that is the same age as our school has developed over time.
As a Director, Caitriona was not allowed to vote or speak on behalf of our school. However, our Board of Management did discuss in advance all motions put to the AGM and mandated Stephen with speaking and voting on our behalf. Unlike last year, when we had three delegates to make decisions for our school, Stephen was on his own this year and had to make decisions without consultation. This was a big responsibility and we are indebted to Stephen for giving up his Saturday and doing this for us.
Motions from member schools included topics such as enrolment caps, the principle of parental choice and diversity, enrolment policies, posts of responsibilities, teaching assistants for early childhood education, inadequate SNA support, capitation grants, communication within the Educate Together sector, school transport, parent nominees to Board of Management and increased workload for schools alongside a substitute teacher shortage.
There was one motion that was particularly wonderful. It was the motion put forward by our school, Citywest ETNS. Our motion read as follows:
"This AGM declares that Educate Together schools:
a) use the term "additional" rather than "special" in reference to children with additional needs.
b) use the title "Class for children with Autism" or "Class for Children with Additional Needs" rather than "Special Class" or "Special Needs Unit".
c) use the title "Additional Needs Assistant" rather than "Special Needs Assistant"."
We were inspired in this motion by Down Syndrome Ireland, who campaigned last year against use of the word "special" in this context, as well as by learning our staff and Board members have done in their studies, work and other life experiences.
Stephen had the responsibility of presenting this motion to the AGM and speaking in favour of the motion. He referenced the equality principle of ET schools, the Down Syndrome Ireland campaign and the leadership role Educate Together has had and continues to have in the Irish education context and our strong wish to continue to show leadership where it matters. Other members then had the opportunity to speak for or against the motion and Stephen took the right of reply. Stephen's speeches, on behalf of Citywest ETNS, came across as strongly child-centred and focussed on equality. He did us proud and the motion was passed.
From now on, Educate Together schools will no longer use the word "special" in this context in their day-to-day work in schools. Of course, it will take the Department of Education and other partners in education longer to change their terminology and we will need to continue to use it in the context of applying for supports and other formal communications.
But on principle and in day-to-day life, we will now be referring to those needs as "additional" rather than "special" and to our assistants as "Additional Needs Assistants (ANAs)" rather than "Special Needs Assistants (SNAs)".
This is a very proud time to be part of Citywest ETNS. We are leading the way to more inclusive practice in the Irish education context. Labels are important and carry a weight with them. We want that to be supportive rather than burdensome. Many thanks to our staff and Board of Management for their pro-active practice and leadership here. As Mahatma Gandhi said "Be the change you want to see in the world." We are that change. We are that world.