I am in a fortunate position — fortunate in one way that I roughly know what is going on, but unfortunate in another in that the knowledge is becoming of increasing disquiet.
I write on the subject of colleges of education. For 25 years the colleges were progressively developed. Their academic standards have risen, their student numbers increased, their facilities have improved. Indeed, it is not possible to overemphasise the ways in which the staff and students have responded to the needs and pressures from the educational system they serve.
Of course, things were not always perfect — they seldom arc in education. It is easy to knock a system, and since 1970 there has been no shortage of effort to do so.
First, Mr Short established an inquiry at area training organisation level. Then Mrs Thatcher enlarged its scope and Lord James reported. This was followed by a White Paper on Higher Education in which some of his recommendations were accepted and the whole concept of the college of education was questioned.
First, it was suggested they should diversify their breadth of study (without any major addition to their resources), and secondly that they should contract their teacher training. Forward estimates were given (since revised downwards) of teacher requirement by the end of this decade and contractions of up to and more than 40 per cent have been requested. Fusions, amalgamations. associations and even closures of colleges have been devised by local authorities and voluntary bodies to reflect the wishes of the Department of Education and Science.
One seriously wonders in all this what professional advice has been heeded in this administrative exercise of reorganisation. Little if anything has been forthcoming on what is almost certainly to happen to Catholic colleges — to which we, the laity, have subscribed financially, and in which we have a special interest for the provision of Catholic teachers. Religious orders, who have made their life's work in this field for more than a century. have been faced with little room for manoeuvre. I do not speak from the privileged position as a Governor of a Catholic college or from that of the independent chairmanship of two formation committees with which I am pleased to be associated. There would he no dispute among staff, authorities or voluntary bodies that an attempt should be made to ensure a continuation and further development of the highly successful ethos of the colleges in the changed situation which faces them.
From a Catholic point of view. the associations recommended for some of our colleges with the maintained or voluntary institutions. may well bring increased opportunities. In others this may not be su.
I lowever, of greater concern is the probable closure of others. It is past being rumour. and one hopes that the Catholic public may learn what is being lost before the deal is signed,
Time is short and the threat is a real one. Have we to face a fait accompli before a voice is raised in defence of what is in danger of being lost?
All may be well. but let us hear openly and publicly from the Catholic Education Council what is being proposed and how far any revised system will fit in with an overall policy concerning the provision of education in Catholic schools.
(Professor) Kevin Keohane 3. Thetford Road,