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Ruane tells NAS-UWT Conference that ‘Equality must be the cornerstone’

13 April, 2007


Incoming Sinn Féin Education Minister for the Six Counties Caitríona Ruane speaking at the NAS-UWT (National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers) conference at the Waterfront in Belfast, today has said that we 'have a real opportunity to develop confident young citizens, able to work together, to create secure and prosperous futures for themselves and for future generations. Also young people with broader horizons, citizens of the wider world, ready to face the many global challenges that confront us.'

Ms Ruane said:

"The historic agreements which have been reached and the willingness of all parties to move forward, together, is, I believe, a matter of real hope. Real hope for all of us here but more importantly, real hope for the future of our children whether they live on the Shankill or the Falls, Derry or Ballymena. Whether they are Travellers or settled children, Polish, Lithuanian or Nigerian. Whether they are learning through the medium of Irish or English.


"I firmly believe that the divisions of the past, the traumas that have been suffered, can be moved beyond, and together we can move forward to ensure that every young person, throughout this island, can achieve their potential. We have a real opportunity to develop confident young citizens, able to work together, to create secure and prosperous futures for themselves and for future generations. Also young people with broader horizons, citizens of the wider world, ready to face the many global challenges that confront us.

"In this future, the role of the teacher must be absolutely central. The strength of our education system throughout these islands is based on the quality of our teachers, and their commitment.

"We have a challenging time ahead. We have to ensure that our curriculum is properly focused, that it is delivered in good quality schools, and that opportunities are kept open for young people throughout their time at school, and that they move towards lifelong learning. Too many of our young people in the North do not achieve their full potential, and come out of compulsory education with too few skills, and with significant challenges. Likewise many of our young people with disabilities need significantly better help, provided to meet their particular needs. We must ensure that this is resourced and organised in the most effective manner. Equality must be the cornerstone or bun cloch of our education system."


Text of Full Speech (Check Against Delivery)

Gabhaim buíochas libh as an seans seo a thabhairt dom labhairt libh agus níos tábhachtaí arís, eisteacht libh.

Thank you very much for the opportunity to briefly address you today.

I know of the important role that your Union plays - Both here and in Britain, and I am delighted to have the opportunity to address your Conference. While I know that the conference is now drawing to a close, may I also say how welcome you are to Belfast. I hope that you have all enjoyed your stay here, and been able to see something of the city, outside the confines of the Waterfront Hall. We are delighted that you have chosen Belfast for this conference.

The fact that like the rest of my colleagues who will work in the Executive I am here today, preparing for my new role as Minister of Education, I believe heralds a new stage in the development of the island, and of the future of the education of our young people. The historic agreements which have been reached and the willingness of all parties to move forward, together, is, I believe, a matter of real hope. Real hope for all of us here but more importantly, real hope for the future of our children whether they live on the Shankill or the Falls, Derry or Ballymena. Whether they are Travellers or settled children, Polish, Lithuanian or Nigerian. Whether they are learning through the medium of Irish or English.

I firmly believe that the divisions of the past, the traumas that have been suffered, can be moved beyond, and together we can move forward to ensure that every young person, throughout this island, can achieve their potential. We have a real opportunity to develop confident young citizens, able to work together, to create secure and prosperous futures for themselves and for future generations. Also young people with broader horizons, citizens of the wider world, ready to face the many global challenges that confront us. I know that this is a vision shared by your Union, and hence I see dialogue with you and the other teachers' unions as being so central to the future

In this future, the role of the teacher must be absolutely central. The strength of our education system throughout these islands is based on the quality of our teachers, and their commitment. I know this as the parent of two girls - I see the commitment, integity and ability of their teachers everyday. That is why I am so keen to spend this time before 8 May listening to as many stakeholders as I can. I want to understand your concerns, the key issues that you believe we need to address.

What I want to do, as I move towards being the Minister for Education, is to work with the teachers, to support them and their schools, so that we can achieve the best outcomes, in the broadest sense, for all our young people. We have a challenging time ahead. We have to ensure that our curriculum is properly focused, that it is delivered in good quality schools, and that opportunities are kept open for young people throughout their time at school, and that they move towards lifelong learning. Too many of our young people in the North do not achieve their full potential, and come out of compulsory education with too few skills, and with significant challenges. Likewise many of our young people with disabilities need significantly better help, provided to meet their particular needs. We must ensure that this is resourced and organised in the most effective manner. Equality must be the cornerstone or bun cloch of our education system and equality will be my guiding principle during my term as Minister.

It is an immense challenge. A very exciting challenge. One of the key things that I believe in is that we can meet this challenge by better co-operation between the different administrations in these islands. We have growing links with the south. For example the Middletown Centre for Autism, in county Armagh, has now been established, and which in the coming year will start to provide important services to young people and their families throughout Ireland. This is a clear example of how we can work together. So too our work on special education, enabling improved professional development and better resources for schools, which I am delighted is now being developed into a new programme involving parents. The exchange of best practice, the development of the professionalism of teachers and all involved in education, improved mobility of teachers, are all aspects of how we can practically work together, for the good of our young people.

Developments in Scotland, England and Wales are also very important, as we learn to create education systems fit to meet the challenge of changing societies. The opportunities I think are exciting, enabling us to pool our expertise and achieve better outcomes.

In doing that the expertise of this union and its knowledge of schools is immensely important, and I just wish to emphasise to you how much I wish to work in co-operation with you so that we can achieve these outcomes, and develop the careers and opportunities of your members. I am keen to look how best that is achieved, working with you, in the coming years.

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