Belfast Telegraph

State papers: Hierarchy halts plan to unite teachers

By Adrian Rutherford

Plans to centralise teacher training on a single site at Stranmillis in the 1980s were sunk after opposition from the Catholic Church.

Three colleges – St Joseph's for Catholic men, St Mary's for Catholic women and the state-run, largely Protestant Stranmillis – had caused an excess of teacher training places.

A committee chaired by Sir Henry Chilver said the two Catholic colleges should amalgamate and move to the Stranmillis site. In a letter sent in October 1981, Education Minister Nicholas Scott said the present system was unsustainable.

In the early to mid-1970s the annual intake of student teachers was just over 1,300. By the 1980s, it had fallen to 600 students.

The downward trend was predicted to continue until at least the end of the decade.

The Chilver Report proposed St Mary's and St Joseph's should form a single voluntary college, and should join with Queen's and Stranmillis College to form the Belfast Centre for Teacher Education, with each of the partners keeping a separate legal and administrative existence.

Mr Scott said there were strong academic, social and financial advantages to plan. He said the proposed links would strengthen teacher training.

But the plans were opposed by the Catholic hierarchy.

The Bishop of Derry, Edward Daly, wrote to Secretary of State Jim Prior in December 1981 outlining his concerns. While the Government was concerned about the academic and economic viability of the colleges – St Mary's and St Joseph's – Bishop Daly's focus was on their right to exist.

Bishop Daly had suggested an amalgamation between the colleges was one step forward.

Mr Prior replied: "I am sure that this must be one element in the eventual solution, although I am forced to say that I doubt whether it can in itself provide a complete solution."

St Mary's eventually merged with St Joseph's in 1986.

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