This Report is an account of the consultation held in November 2020 by Laois Education Support Centre in collaboration with the Teaching Council with nine school communities in the town of Portlaoise – parents, teachers, school leaders, community groups, and students. This consultation focused on their experiences of education in Portlaoise as seen through the lens of diversity, inclusion, and interculturalism. This was a really positive, insightful day and the openness and energy of all participants was incredible. The Report outlines both the context for the event and the emergent themes identified as important to the community for further exploration going forward. We hope this is the start of a longer term engagement where Laois Education Support Centre can work with all partners in creating a network where we can address the emergent themes from the day.
The Report was launched by Rotimi Adebari, a Nigerian-born Irish citizen living in Portlaoise who made history in 2007 when he became the first African to be elected a Mayor in the Republic of Ireland.
In discussions with stakeholders (See full report for list) we became aware that Laois, and Portlaoise in particular, has become a very multicultural community. We note that Laois has new residents from over 90 different countries. 50 different languages are spoken here and at least 22 different religions practised. Significantly more than 10,000 people speak a language other than English in their homes. We concluded that this means we have been given a gift of diversity that we could never have imagined in our wildest dreams. We are excited by the possibilities that this provides. We are, however, also acutely aware of the challenges that diversity may pose for all those involved. We knew that we had choices – either to become involved or not. Through our wider remit as an Education Support Centre, we made a firm decision to engage with our school communities with a view to exploring openly how Laois Education Support Centre could possibly support schools in addressing interculturalism in their own contexts. It was here that it became apparent to us that the Teaching Council’s BEACONS model would provide a very appropriate framework for our engagement with the education community of Portlaoise. We are very grateful to the Teaching Council for their commitment, engagement, and professionalism in collaborating with us to make this engagement a possibility. We invited schools and key stakeholders to come together through BEACONS to start a conversation around interculturalism. Our intention was that this conversation would be open, honest, and safe and that it would also be the first tentative step in a longer engagement with school communities in this area. We were genuinely heartened by the response from principals, teachers, students, parents, and the wider community on the day. The enthusiasm, honesty, and willingness to share their perspectives and experience was wonderful. We look forward to ongoing engagement with schools to build on the success of this event. Finally, our hope is that through seeking to explore our diversity, we will strengthen and enhance our existing community of education and help build a ‘Community of Belonging’ where we might all embrace and celebrate our interculturalism. Through recognising and respecting the cultural diversity we have been gifted we know we will only enhance our own cultural experience.
The report is available to view here https://www.teachingcouncil.ie/en/about-us1/beacons/beacons-portlaoise-building-a-community-of-belonging.pdf
The launch of the report is also available to view here https://vimeo.com/524246247
Catherine Doolan Director
Liam Ó Néill Vice Chairperson Management Committee