Teacher's pet

 

An insider’s guide to education

As the election campaign enters its final phase, senior education figures are focusing on one question – who will be the next Minister for Education?

Everything depends, of course , on the balance of forces between Fine Gael and Labour after the poll. And there is still the possibility of a minority Fine Gael government supported by Fianna Fáil. Most education insiders believe the next education minister will come from the Labour ranks. Since Fine Gael’s James O’Reilly is set to take the health portfolio, the assumption is that Labour will get the other big spending department – education.

Labour’s very active education spokesman Ruairí Quinn is the name most widely mentioned for the post. But could Labour leader Eamon Gilmore settle in Marlborough Street? That is the informed view of one seasoned observer.

On the Fine Gael side, Richard Bruton continues to be mentioned as a future education minister. Bruton was an outstanding education spokesman. Ten years ago, he produced a report on science education which remains essential reading. He is also very strong on the issue of school accountability.

Brian Hayes, who is back in the Enda Kenny fold, would also be an outstanding education minister.

Despite it key importance, not to mention its €9 billion budget, education is curiously still regarded as a second-tier ministry.

In the doling out the new ministries , the new government will come to education only after “more important’’ posts in finance , enterprise and employment, foreign affairs and possibly public service reform are allocated.

The hope is that education will be given a high priority by the new administration with a new high profile minister with a taste for reform and innovation.

But is that wishful thinking?

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Actor Michael Sheen – best known as Brian Clough in The Damned Unitedand Tony Blair in The Queen, was in sparkling form at UCD last week. Sheen, who also played David Frost in Frost /Nixonreceived the Literary and Historical Society’s James Joyce Award.

Sheen was that rare being - hugely talented and wholly unpretentious. Previous recipients of the James Joyce Award include Will Ferrell, Sir George Martin, JK Rowling, Salman Rushdie, Michael Palin and Roger Daltrey. Who needs an honorary doctorate when you have made it onto that illustrious list?

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That TV3 debate between Eamonn Gilmore and Micheál Martin has put the fear of God into the fee-paying schools sector.

To the surprise of many party workers, the Labour leader signalled his unease about the €100 million State subsidy to the 56 fee-paying schools.

Gilmore did not actually say he would abolish it but even his mild criticism of current arrangements has unleashed near panic among some principals in the fee-paying sector.

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Education continues to gain only a minor role in the election campaign. Labour has been active in rolling out policy documents but other parties have given education issues little priority. This may reflect high levels of satisfaction with the education service, compared to health or other more pressing problems.

The wider public, it appears, it largely unaware of the steep decline in literacy and maths standards in our schools. Sadly, the results of the last OECD/PISA education rankings were, like much else, drowned out by the banking crisis.

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In the battle to be the next TCD provost, business don Colm Kearney appears to be gaining momentum.

Around the campus Kearney (right) is emerging as the favourite to take the post. Backed by campaign manager, Brian Lucey, Kearney has run a media-savvy campaign that has plugged into the social networking boom.

For long-time favourite, Paddy Prendergast, there is some ground to make up in these final weeks before the election in April.


Got any education gossip? E-mail in confidence to teacherspet@irishtimes.com