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Closure threat to Catholic teacher-training college

17-04-2008


17/04/2008 :: Northern Ireland :: The Irish News

The specialist college that trains teachers for the north's Catholic schools has warned that it may be forced to close over plans to link the way it is funded with its student numbers.

St Mary's University College in west Belfast is facing a fifth cut to its intake in the past five years.

The teacher-training college receives a block grant from government, which is not based on its population.

The Department for Employment and Learning (DEL), however, is working on developing a new model for funding that is linked to student numbers. Any reduction will, therefore, mean less money.

In 2008/09, there will be a total of only 594 teacher-training places across the north's institutions, a fall from 699 this year and 786 in 2006.

The two specialist university colleges - St Mary's and Stranmillis - have been the hardest hit.

Addressing the assembly's employment and learning committee yesterday, St Mary's director of finance, Brian McFall, warned that the college was facing a £1 million deficit in the next two years.

"It will threaten the contribution that St Mary's makes to teacher education in Northern Ireland. We cannot over-emphasise the damage that this mechanism will do at St Mary's," he said.

"The issue is absolutely critical to our very existence."

The government hopes the new funding arrangements will be in place for the start of the next academic year.

While DEL is responsible for funding St Mary's, the intake of students to teacher training is determined by the Department of Education.

Intakes are primarily based on a statistical forecast of future years' vacancies in schools, known as the teacher demand model.

This takes account of trends including projected pupil numbers and pupil-teacher ratios.

"Other information sources inform us as to the number of serving teachers, teachers returning to Northern Ireland from GB, the number of students already on initial teacher education courses and current and future teacher vacancies," a spokesman said.

This process, downturns in pupil numbers and the difficulties newly qualified teachers experience securing full-time posts, he said, have prompted the department to reduce places from 880 in 2004/05 to 594 in 2008/09.

Frank Bunting, northern secretary of the Irish National Teachers' Organisation, said continued cuts to trainee places were "endangering the very quality of Northern Ireland teacher training".

"The department is guilty of silo thinking," he said.

"Soon Northern Ireland will face a crisis of teaching supply and its actions in rendering teacher-training institutions unviable is akin to throwing the baby out with the bath water."

 

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