Notes from Meeting with School Leaders in Response to Community Tension and Violence

Thursday 6th May 2021

Representation:

A total of 48 schools were invited representing schools in Belfast, Newtownabbey, Derry-Londonderry areas where CRIS is currently working.  A cross section of 18 Principals from Primary, Nursery and Post Primary attended (inclusive of Controlled, Maintained, Integrated and Irish Medium).  Several other Principals voiced interest in attending however were unable due to other commitments. CRIS agreed to keep those who expressed interest informed.

Confidentiality was discussed with the schools with Chatham House arrangements agreed, and the purpose of note taking for CRIS to help debrief the meeting and consider any next steps.

CRIS agreed to feed back to schools, with options that may arise as actions to take forward in support of those who were invited to attend/ did attend.  This may likely form follows as a survey in order to assess interest in a variety of options. The following describes broadly the types of impact made to schools as a result of current tensions.

Impact on Good Relations/Peacebuilding Impact:

  • Fear of going back to violence; fear of losing good relationships with partner schools “we have such a good relationships…”

  • Frustration with Department for pulling back on funding for Shared Education at a time when it is needed.

  • Could exacerbate the loss of momentum for partnership due to Covid restrictions.

  • Frustration that some schools who would like to be involved in Shared Education aren’t always able to find partners; therefore, lack support and resources to address good relations.

  • Concerns/questions whether tensions and unrest discourage or intimidate those who may wish for more sharing and integration and/or amplify the influence of those who wish to block?

 

Impact on Staff:

  • We are now having to have conversations we haven’t had to have with students in the 10 years. Some staff having to plan school leaving to avoid problems. Some unsettled staff members. Not sure how to communicate about cultural identity with nuance… how do we help children understand, be proud of their cultural traditions, but not so as to become rigid in them.

  • In some instances, children reporting people coming to their door in masks – how do you respond to this.

  • In some areas of more violence (intra) high levels of trauma that staff aren’t trained to deal with & feel like their holding back the tide with it. Children seriously need support with counselling provision.

  • Several schools mentioned recent deaths in direct proximity to schools.

 

 

Financial Impact:

  • Work being done to improve school unable to be completed due to contractors deeming the area unsafe.

 

Impact on Children:

  • They are very aware of tensions; for those in highly impacted areas the conflict is on their doorstep; they are asking questions and they are seeing gates closed that have not been closed in their lifetime- they are asking questions-why? They are worried and school is emphasising the message that ‘school is a safe place’ to reinforce. Families in turmoil.

 

Emotional:

  • Anxiety in the youngest children; sleep problems since Easter.

  • Older (Transition Aged) P7s- Attracted to interface areas for activity, getting drawn or manipulated into street violence. Targeted work should be done at P7s who in some communities may not end up meeting someone from another religion for the next 7 years due to mono-communal contact.

  • P7s noticeably de-regulated; questioning cultural identity background- and playing out on social media- filtering back into school, etc.

 

Impact on Families/Parents:

  • For some, a sense of shame in communities especially if family members are involved /now being prosecuted.  Parents may not know or have ability to control older children/ teens who are participating. Some past pupils have gotten involved and are now facing consequences- impact.

  • Family members travelling from quieter parts of the city to areas of unrest in order to participate. Recognition how easily unrest can spread across areas of the city- the flammability of street-level conflict.

Impact on Community/Police relations:

  • School leader seeing new anti-PSNI graffiti on walls. Also, territorial markings re-emerging i.e. painting kerb stones.

  • Tensions directed at police from both PUL and CNR communities. Would like to see community police come back into schools – worked really well before. Bigger conversation needed re: what has happened in the past. How to move forward, don’t know what the right way is. But,  “If you’re not part of a potential solution, are you part of a problem?”