Teacher's Pet


An insider's guide to education

Labour is expectedto secure the education brief when the new Cabinet is named tomorrow – although nothing is certain. The Education portfolio will only be assigned after other “more important jobs ’’ in Finance, Foreign Affairs, Health, Public Service Reform and Enterprise are allocated.

Ruairí Quinn – so impressive as opposition spokesman – is seen as favourite despite his trenchant criticism of Department of Education officials two years ago during the Dáil debate on the Ryan child abuse report. Senior department figures, he said, were either obscurantist members of secret societies or else they were “incompetent, lazy and destructive”.

Who else is in the frame?

Labour leader Eamon Gilmore, a former head of the Union of Students in Ireland, has a huge interest in education issues . And his wife is chair of the Dún Laoghaire VEC.

But some insiders say it might be unwise to appoint Gilmore to Education, given the task the new government will face in rationalising the VEC sector. That said, he is very well briefed on the education agenda.

Róisín Shorthall, who has much to say on education, could also be set for elevation after her storming performance in the election.

On the Fine Gael side, education spokesman Fergus O’Dowd and former spokesman Brian Hayes are being mentioned – even though both opposed Enda Kenny in the leadership heave. Richard Bruton could also feature – if he is not appointed as the new minister for the public service.

Predictably, that independentreview of the Department of Finance was scathing about the budgetary policies during the boom. It also had a cut at the benchmarking process and teachers’ pay. Salaries for primary teachers, it says, rose from 7th of 10 OECD states in 2002, to 3rd by 2008 – just behind their well-paid colleagues in Switzerland and Germany.

John Hennessy, thenew chair of the Higher Education Authority (HEA) appears to be making quite an impression. Since his surprise appointment, Hennessy has thrown himself into the task making contact with a broad range of key education figures.

Hennessy, the former boss of Swedish communications giant Ericsson, is the first private sector figure to occupy the HEA chair, a job traditionally reserved for senior civil servants. Insiders say he is determined to “shake things up’’ across the higher education sector. Better still, Hennessy is seen as an independent figure with no party political baggage.

The only mystery is how he got the job in the first place. Education minister Mary Coughlan appears to have had little say in his appointment. It appears to have been pushed through at a very high government level. Hennessy has been appointed for a five-year term. But will the HEA survive the “bonfire of the quangos” promised by Fine Gael during the election campaign? And what about that FG plan to replace all State boards within six months of taking office?

Dream School, JamieOliver’s (above) latest TV crusade is sparking a lively debate. The ubiquitous Oliver has assembled a stellar cast to teach a group of early school leavers. But the great and the good – like historian David Starkey and actor Simon Callow – struggle to motivate the bored and the brooding. Yes, it is intrusive and voyeuristic but it is also strangely riveting. Catch it on Channel 4 tomorrow.

Update on thatbattle for the much-coveted role of TCD Provost. Business don Colm Kearney is gaining ground. And don’t rule out Jane Ohlmeyer, professor of modern history, still in the running to be the first female Provost. But long time favourite, vice provost Paddy Prendergast is still ahead in the run-in to next month’s election.

Got any education gossip?

E-mail, in confidence teacherspet@irishtimes.com