Bishops offered an olive branch on teacher training

30th April 2004 at 01:00
Glasgow University is to step up its efforts to woo the Catholic hierarchy over the training of Catholic teachers.

The move follows a second evaluation of the merger between the university and St Andrew's College of Education which found that, five years after the event, "tensions between the secular and Catholic members of the faculty (of education) are still very apparent, and there have been continued difficulties in integrating the specific Catholic ethos with the wider faculty".

Roger McClure, chief executive of the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council, which carried out the review, has told Jim Wallace, Lifelong Learning Minister, that the merger can only be regarded as "a qualified success" to date.

Part of the problem was due to the "delayed and disruptive" move from the Bearsden campus of the former college to new buildings at the university, only completed last summer. This had hampered the establishment of strong links between the faculty and Catholic schools.

Mr McClure urged the university's senior management to keep a close watch on developments and noted: "Balancing the specific requirements of the Catholic community for Catholic teachers within a wider secular university will remain challenging and the wider university needs to understand the special circumstances of this merger."

This veiled rebuke prompted Sir Muir Russell, the university's new principal, to write to Hirek Kwiatkowski, dean of the education faculty, asking Dr Kwiatkowski to tell senior management by September what support it should be providing.

Meanwhile Sir Muir, former head of the Scottish Executive's civil service, said that he would "maintain the dialogue with senior representatives of the Catholic Church which I believe has the potential to improve mutual understanding".

The funding council report says some members of the Board of Catholic Education, set up following the merger to look after the interests of Catholic students in the education faculty, felt they were not being given enough information to function properly.

They also suggested that "the mission of providing Catholic teachers was less important than it had been".

The report continued: "The Board has concerns that the importance of the formation of Catholic teachers was not well understood by the faculty." It was clear that some university staff regarded the secular nature of their work as sacrosanct.

A university survey sent to 210 Catholic schools in Scotland - only 55 per cent of which responded - found that an overwhelming majority were satisfied that the faculty was preparing students well for working in the denominational sector.

Mr McClure's report said there were encouraging signs that progress was being made but the denominational aspects of this particular merger made it "probably unique".

It said there were lessons to be learnt for similar ventures, in particular the importance of senior management keeping an eye on how matters are progressing after a merger.

The report also noted "the need to assess the 'soft' issues such as the values, culture and style of both institutions and generating a climate of goodwill, in addition to the harder issues of structures, output and finance when institutions are considering merger".

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