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Catholic teacher training college to fight Stranmillis merger proposals

By Rebecca Black

Northern Ireland's only Catholic teacher training college has angrily opposed proposals to merge with Stranmillis University College.

Peter Finn, principal of St Mary's University College,  a college of Queen’s University, said it would not be coerced into a single college, accusing Employment and Learning Minister Stephen Farry of having an "integrationist agenda".

Stormont's employment and learning committee yesterday heard presentations from St Mary's as well as Stranmillis about the future of our teacher training colleges.

The second stage of the Initial Teacher Education Infrastructure Review was published by Mr Farry in June. It suggests four options – a collaborative partnership model; a two-centre model with a Belfast Institute of Education; a Northern Ireland Teacher Education Federation, and a Northern Ireland Institute of Education.

Stranmillis and St Mary's educate most of our teachers, each with a current enrolment of 569. Queen's has 137 and University of Ulster has 118 student teachers doing a PGCE (post-graduate) course, and there are 25 with the Open University PGCE course.

Stranmillis has plumped for the final option, which would see both colleges merge. However, St Mary's has said it will not give up its autonomy, nor its site on the Falls Road.

First to give evidence yesterday was chair of Stranmillis governing body, Sir Desmond Rea. He indicated that it favoured a single Northern Ireland Institute of Education located on its current south Belfast site.

Mr Rea assured the committee that St Mary's faith-based ethos would be protected in a "multi-faith context".

"Stranmillis is ready, willing and able to enter into discussions with other institutions to make this a reality," he said.

Mr Rea told the committee that Stranmillis had invited St Mary's to talks about this issue.

In response to a question from DUP MLA Sammy Douglas, he admitted that yesterday would have been the first time St Mary's knew of the invitation.

Next to give evidence was Mr Finn, who said most important to St Mary's was maintaining its autonomy and staying on its Falls Road site.

He claimed that Mr Farry had an "integrationalist agenda", but insisted St Mary's would fight and not be coerced into a merged single institution.

When asked by committee chairman, UUP MLA Robin Swann, did he believe the minister had already made his mind up on the matter, Mr Finn responded: "I think the minister is very, very clear that he takes an integrated approach to all aspects."

Mr Finn also queried why DEL had not worked with the Department of Education in relation to the future of teaching training.

"It raises all sorts of questions about motive; I would like to know the reason why," he said.

A DEL spokesman responded to Mr Finn's comments: "Employment and Learning Minister Stephen Farry commissioned the review to focus on the infrastructure of initial teacher education which, as an area of responsibility, falls to his Department for Employment and Learning.

"The review panel's report provides options for a more efficient, shared and integrated system."

Factfile

Four options for the future of teacher training

(A): A collaborative partnership

(B): A two-centre model with a Belfast Institute of Education

(C): A Northern Ireland Teacher Education Federation

(D): A Northern Ireland Institute of Education

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