The Orange Order’s education officer has given a ‘landmark speech’ at a conference for Catholic school leaders.
In what the Orange Order say was a first for the Institution, Orangeman David Scott was a guest speaker at the annual convention of the Catholic Principals Association in Cookstown on Friday morning.
Mr Scott - who in 2011 became the first Orangeman to receive an award for cross-community service by a Catholic school - spoke of the significance of his attendance.
“The Orange Institution recognises and acknowledges the value of education,” he told the conference.
“We ourselves as an organisation want to feel valued in wider society. We want to play a full and active part in a truly shared society going forward. I hope my presence here today is yet another significant step on that journey.”
He added: “We may have many differences, but we all share the same aspiration which is to have a better future for our young people, based on education and mutual understanding.”
The Orangeman also referred to educational underachievement in the Province and underlined the importance of the expression of cultural identity, without impinging on community relations.
Using the example of a local secondary school experiencing a decline in numbers and poor examination results, Mr Scott told teachers how a new principal identified very quickly the community from where his students came from.
“He identified the importance of their culture to them and saw the potential of tapping into their cultural interests as a means of boasting and enhancing the potential of their academical achievements.
“Creating opportunities for his students through the curriculum, as well as extra curricular activities, opportunities were afforded to the young people to explore and express their cultural identity in a safe and secure environment.
“In effect, the principal was assisting the pupils to reap just rewards and soon the school was bouncing back with improved confidence, improving results, improved relationships, as well as increased respect for teachers, within the school environment, and a reduction in anti-social behaviour within the community.
“To me this demonstrates that educational underachievement can be tackled.”