Principals, teachers and school management board members gathered in Letterkenny’s Mount Errigal Hotel this evening (Wednesday 17th April) to celebrate the achievement of schools in Donegal under Church of Ireland patronage.

The audience were treated to a presentation by Dr Jacqui Wilkinson from the Church of Ireland Centre at Dublin City University who shared a presentation on ‘Life in the Church of Ireland Primary School through the voices of the children’. It was based on interviews the academic had done with more than three thousand pupils at 92 Church of Ireland schools in the Republic to explore their attitudes towards school ethos.

Mrs Wilkinson’s research presented a very positive picture of life in these schools, giving the teaching professionals and managers much food for thought. 72% of the pupils attended a Christian place of worship “at least sometimes” and almost 90% of the schools held assembly and taught RE at least once a week. The vast majority of children found their schools to be welcoming and caring places, which taught them to respect others and care for the world around them. They also felt God was “very important” in their schools.

Mrs Wilkinson, who is a lecturer in Religious Education in the DCU Institute of Education, said in her experience, every school was different. Emphasizing the importance of parish-school links, she said that Church of Ireland schools shared many of the same values as other schools but it was their foundation in Christianity that distinguished them.

The Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, Rt Rev Andrew Forster, thanked Mrs Wilkinson for her presentation and for sharing the results of her research with the Donegal schools. He told the teachers present that they should never underestimate the impact they had on the lives of the children they cared for and educated. And he told the members of boards of management there that they were the people who were prepared to do “the heavy lifting” in their communities to make sure that their children’s welfare was protected, that their education was resourced and that they were blessed by what was happening in their school lives.

Bishop Andrew also thanked the Archdeacon of Raphoe, Ven. David Huss, for organising Wednesday evening’s event. Archdeacon Huss had opened the meeting, welcoming Dr Wilkinson and also singling out the recently appointed Moderator of the Derry and Donegal Presbytery, Rev Susan Moore, who was in the audience. Of the 31 schools in the county under Protestant patronage, 17 are managed by the Church of Ireland, 11 by the Presbyterian Church and three are under joint control.