Teacher-training college is slated in inspectors' report
A TEACHER training college could lose its State-backed accreditation after a damning report into how it has been run.
There was no criticism of the standards attained by graduates and students at St Nicholas Montessori College, which is based in Dun Laoghaire, Dublin.
But a review by the Higher Education Training and Awards Council (HETAC) was severely critical of its structures and quality-assurance procedures.
The college said last night that changes were being introduced as a matter of urgency, including a partnership with Griffith College, which offers a range of degree programmes, including in the area of education.
St Nicholas is best known for its programmes in Montessori teaching, which deals with the education of children aged from three to 12, with a focus on pre-school children.
Annual fees for the full-time degree programmes are €5,610. The college has about 500 full- and part-time students in Dun Laoghaire, Cork, Limerick and Galway.
HETAC awards qualifications for third-level colleges outside the university sector. It carries out routine quality-assurance reviews of these institutions.
Its report on St Nicholas makes 56 recommendations for improvement and sets targets and deadlines for change.
"Should the college fail to make significant progress in accordance with the report's recommendations and agreed implementation plans and deadline, HETAC may initiate a process to consider withdrawal of programme validation," a spokesperson said.
While a formal follow-up to the review will not take place for 12 months, the HETAC academic committee meeting next month will consider progress to date.
Loss of HETAC validation would place the college in a very awkward position. While it would not necessarily mean closure, the college would have to get alternative accreditation, such as from a UK-awarding body, to continue to function.
"Lessons have been learned and we are delighted with the opportunity to strengthen the college going forward," St Nicholas director June Hosford said last night.
Ms Hosford is retiring this summer, but said she had always planned to retire at 60 and this had nothing to do with the review.
One source said last night that while there was no questioning the commitment at St Nicholas or the quality of its teaching, it nevertheless suffered from being a small, single-discipline college.
The report found that a systematic analysis, evaluation and review of the effectiveness of agreed quality-assurance procedures was not part of normal practice at St Nicholas.
Other criticisms included a lack of a system providing basic information about matters such as student progression and success rates, employability of graduates, and effectiveness of teachers.
On management style, it found: "In a laudable pursuit of collegiality and a flat organisational structure, the college appears to have gone too far, leaving it difficult to determine where the line of responsibility is on any issue."
It also pointed to a lack of third-level expertise among board members and a "lack of meaningful engagement of the board with the college's strategy and direction".
Other changes planned this summer include reconstitution of the board of governors and the appointment of a consultant to assist planning.
Griffith College is in a position to provide St Nicholas with necessary adminstrative and technical back-up.