On the front page of the Irish News this morning there was picture of a some of the pupils outside St Eugene's High School, a Roman Catholic school in Castlederg. Part of the name on the school building is covered by a poster, which is being held by one of the children, but the words Ardscoil and Naomh, written in old 'Celtic-style' script, are clearly visible.
This is a simple example of the way in which Roman Catholic schools affirm and promote an Irish, Gaelic and Celtic cultural identity for the children who attend them. It is done through Irish signage, Irish language, Irish traditional music and Irish games. In other words the schools have an Irish cultural ethos.
This contrasts with the approach of many controlled schools to the subject of cultural identity. Yet the children attending controlled schools, the vast majority of whom are from a Protestant and unionist background, have the right to see their cultural traditions affirmed in the schools they attend. Those traditions may include Ulster-Scots, Ulster-British or Orange culture but if these are the cultures of the children who attend the school then, according to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and other human rights instruments, those cultures should be affirmed within the school. It is simply a matter of human rights and good practice.
For too long this issue has been hidden away but we are now getting it out on the table and I have raised it directly with the Education Minister, Caitriona Ruane. We are due to meet again in a few weeks time to continue the conversation and I am hopeful that in the not too distant future we will see this matter being addressed.
It will require change in a number of areas, including:
1. Incorporation of cultural traditions into initial teacher training
2. The development and provision of appropriate teaching materials
3. In-service teacher training
4. Guidance for school governors about the cultural ethos of the school and the cultural rights of the child