“the current system is inefficient and we need to examine the case for reform of teacher education provision”

The BBC reports on the latest attempt by the Northern Ireland Employment and Learning Minister, the Alliance Party’s Stephen Farry, to reform the teacher training system here.    It follows the publication of a report on the first stage of the Study of the Teacher Education Infrastructure in Northern Ireland.  From the ministerial press release

“The research concluded that Stranmillis and St. Mary’s are the only teacher training establishments in the UK which receive premia additional to their core funding. The cost of these in 2011-12 amounted to £2.16million.

“As a result, the cost of training teachers in the university colleges is significantly higher than elsewhere – almost 40% higher than in the comparator English institutions cited in the report.

“Northern Ireland also provides funding to the Colleges of Education for non-initial teacher education courses to the value of another £2million in order to ensure that the colleges remain viable.

“In summary, our two university colleges are highly dependent on the number of teachers being trained, on the levels of grant per student and on funding for non-teacher education courses to remain financially viable.

“I believe that the training of teachers in Northern Ireland within the current system is inefficient and we need to examine the case for reform of teacher education provision.

“While I have no doubt as to the quality of the teaching carried out by any of the five providers of initial teacher education, my concerns are directed at the fragmented nature of the initial teacher education sector and the direct and opportunity costs that are consequentially borne by us all. I do not believe that any change in structure will impact on quality – indeed it may well add to it.

“The second stage of the Study of the Teacher Education Infrastructure will set out options for a more shared and integrated system for the delivery and funding of teacher education, involving all five teacher education providers.

The initial response from the principal of St. Mary’s University College suggests he expects political push-back on any integrated proposals.  From the BBC report

St Mary’s College principal, Professor Peter Finn, said their work was grounded in Catholic intellectual tradition of higher education.

“It promotes a Catholic philosophy and anthropology through the pursuit of excellence in learning and teaching.

“The college will guard and protect its ethos and identity, as well as its place as an integral element of the Catholic education sector.”

That push-back was evident when Minister Farry proposed a single teacher training system back in November 2011.  And as Mick noted then,

…the Minister is proposing the only evident practical way forward… Very handy for the DUP (‘all of us’), who will say getting St Mary’s into the wider picture is a necessary precursor to a wholesale re-engineering of the education system away from old sectarian lines…

And for Sinn Fein (‘separate but equal’), who are kicking him from the other side for a decision he has yet to make, but setting up conditions that might make it impossible for the Catholic St Mary’s College to maintain an independent status outside mainstream third level teacher training college…

There’s no major appetite for an integrated education system within the wider Catholic community. But the money is running out for Stranmillis. It remains to be seen whether there are legs in this fight, or if it’s just another sham fight for the benefit of the incumbents of OFMDFM; the top flight of the NI Adminstration…

It always helps when the main ministerial casulty is conveniently in another party altogether…