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Teacher Training: Cost

Oral Answers to Questions — Employment and Learning – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:15 pm on 19th January 2016.

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Photo of Leslie Cree Leslie Cree UUP 2:15 pm, 19th January 2016

6. Mr Cree asked the Minister for Employment and Learning to outline the cost of training a teacher. (AQO 9410/11-16)

Photo of Stephen Farry Stephen Farry Alliance

My Department is responsible for funding initial teacher education training. The Education Minister is responsible for early and continuing professional development and determining the number of teachers to be trained each year.

The Grant Thornton report, which I commissioned as part of a two-stage review into initial teacher education, analysed the cost of teacher training in our universities and university colleges against comparators in the United Kingdom. The findings at that time were that the cost of teacher training here was significantly more than in the comparator institutions and significantly higher in the university colleges than the universities. Students undertaking a course in initial teacher education here can complete either a one-year PGCE or a four-year Bachelor of Education degree.

At Queen's and Ulster universities, which deliver the postgraduate certificate, my Department currently funds at a rate of just over £4,000 per student while, at Stranmillis University College and St Mary's University College, which deliver both the postgraduate certificate and the Bachelor of Education degree, my Department currently funds at £5,380 per student per annum. All courses attract a student fee of £3,805. The variance between the universities and university colleges is due to the additional premia paid in respect of their status as small and specialist institutions. In reality, it is primarily paid to ensure their sustainability.

Members will be aware that I proposed the removal of the premia as part of my Department's 2015-16 budget. I do not believe that we can afford such an inefficiency. As I have highlighted before, it is bizarre that it costs more to train a teacher here, when we have too many, than an engineer, of which we have too few. We have to get our priorities straight, and the 'Aspiring to Excellence' report proposes several options that would be more efficient and would also improve quality.

Photo of Leslie Cree Leslie Cree UUP

I thank the Minister for his reply. We all recognise that teaching is a fine and valuable profession, but the Minister will be aware of figures produced by the General Teaching Council that state that 23% of recent teaching graduates obtained work in Northern Ireland. The rest of them went elsewhere. Why, when budgets are so tight, are we continuing to produce so many teachers to export elsewhere when, as you said, we need engineering and medical graduates here? Have the Executive discussed why the statistical-based teacher-demand model — that is quite a mouthful — is being topped up each year?

Photo of Stephen Farry Stephen Farry Alliance

I am grateful for the Member's supplementary question. Again, it opens a whole range of different issues. The Member and the Assembly will be aware that the teacher-demand model is run by the Department of Education. As I alluded to at the start of my answer, the Department of Education and, indeed, the Minister set the numbers for entry. I have, on many occasions, stated my opinion that those figures are unrealistically high and that we are simply training too many teachers. At times, we are artificially training too many teachers in order to ensure the sustainability of the teacher training colleges rather than promoting an agenda of reform towards, in my view, what should be a single teacher education system for Northern Ireland.

The teacher-demand model, in terms of the Executive, is something that I cannot directly comment upon but, obviously, Members will be aware that, last year, I did propose the removal of the premia that is paid to the teacher training colleges. I think that virtually every other party in the Assembly took a different view on the matter and felt that that was a more worthy expenditure of resource than directly investing in our other colleges and universities to support the particular skills requirements that we need to address in our society.

Photo of Chris Lyttle Chris Lyttle Alliance

There are a number of important factors in relation to teacher training, including economics and public finance. Does the Minister think that it is fair to the dreams of the individual who sorely wants to teach in Northern Ireland that we are training far too many teachers in Northern Ireland?

Photo of Stephen Farry Stephen Farry Alliance

I fully respect that people will want to pursue their passion and that people will have a passion for teaching. We will always have some replacement demand for teachers in our society so there will always be some opportunities in the system but, yet again, we are simply training too many teachers. It is important that anyone who does go into teacher training is realistic about that. Indeed, the skills barometer pointed out those figures very clearly for us.

The Member also alluded to other factors. As we look to the idea of a different system in Northern Ireland, it is not simply an issue about cost; it is also about how we should aspire to train our teachers together. We talk about shared and integrated education but, if we cannot get our teachers trained side by side, it will be very hard for us to credibly promote changes in how we teach our children together. It is also quite clear that, the more that we link our teacher training into the context of the university setting, with that access to high-quality research and that multidisciplinary framework, the further we will also improve the quality of the future provision of our teachers. That is also very much in the interests of the children of Northern Ireland.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP 2:30 pm, 19th January 2016

That is the end of our time for listed questions. We now move to topical questions, and I call Bronwyn McGahan. I call Bronwyn McGahan.

Photo of Bronwyn McGahan Bronwyn McGahan Sinn Féin

I apologise, Mr Deputy Speaker; you will have to pass me.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

OK. We will move on.