Assembly Speech - Stranmillis College and St Mary's College Merger 23/06/2008

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Mr Speaker / Deputy Speaker 

I rise today to oppose this motion being brought before the Assembly today.  As a member of the Employment and Learning Committee, this issue has come before the Committee and a great deal of concern has been expressed by the members. 

The Current Situation 

The situation in Northern Ireland is approaching the time when discussions on the matter are needed and for decisions to be made made in the best interests of our children, the provision and professionalism of teacher education and in the interests of the economy. 

I am sure everyone in the chamber is anxious to ensure the highest standard of education for all our children and young people; and that the education and levels of motivation to achieve their full potential and ensure a bright future are the foundation stones on which education provision will be built.  We all know about the demographic trends and the influence these trends will have on the future provision. 

The population of school age children will decline rapidly in the coming years.  Within this context we have to implement a demand led strategy and at the same time ensure that the quality of provision is of the very highest quality, producing teachers with excellent qualifications, good teaching practice experience and with bright career prospects. 

So often we have produced intelligent and well qualified A level students who have gone into the teaching profession and yet the potential of them securing a career is diminished due to the over provision from the teacher training colleges not being aligned with the demographic trends. 

The reality is that the projected need for teacher numbers will fall, it is already evident, will become increasingly so and will impact upon the primary sector and leading into second tier provision.  It is extremely difficult under the circumstances to argue for the full retention of the status quo. 

In determining future policy synergy needs to be identified between the need for a totally professionally equipped teacher supply and a need to address the scale and costs of future provision. 

The efficient and effective use of the public’s money is what should drive the thinking of this Assembly. 

Doing nothing in the matter is not an option and the DEL committee has already received evidence from both Stranmillis College and St Mary’s.  In both cases the concern of those who presented evidence was evident; although I do need to say that the members have been concerned about the process entered into between Stranmillis and Queen’s on a potential merger, as having raised a few eyebrows.  This all the more so as the Minister was unaware of the merger dinner held to cement the ‘done deal’ and the fact that senior civil servants were not involved in the process.  This Mr Speaker / Deputy is a totally unacceptable position. 

The Department of Education and the Department for Employment and Learning are jointly carrying out a review of teacher education. 

The Review is almost complete and Sir Reg Empey, the Minister for Employment and Learning and I will, in the coming months, be carefully considering the way forward on all aspects of teacher education.  This will include consideration not only of the introduction of a bursary scheme to support teachers’ continuing professional development but also the way forward on all phases of teacher education: initial teacher education, induction, early and continuing professional development.  In considering the way forward account will be taken of the overall resources made available for education. 

In conclusion there is: 

  1. A need to look at over-supply of teachers
  2. A need to ensure that teacher education is of the highest quality and can be favourably benchmarked against the standards of excellence anywhere in the world.
  3. Any system that emerges will enjoy the confidence of the teaching profession from throughout Northern Ireland.