The professional place of teachers on the island of Ireland: truth flourishes where the student’s lamp has shone

Linda Clarke, Teresa O'Doherty

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6 Citations (Scopus)
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It is timely to pause as we reach the centenary of the creation of the contested border which divides Ireland and the advent of Brexit to examine teacher education across the island, revealing intersecting contrasts and similarities which reflect both common origins and increasing divergences. The relatively high esteem of both scholarship and of the teaching profession embraces important common strengths – the student’s lamp shines brightly across the island, a full century after Yeats penned the words in the title of this article. Recent reviews of teacher education provision on each side of the border, conducted by overlapping international panels, have produced quite similar recommendations but markedly contrasting outcomes. The article concludes by contrasting the recent trajectories of policy and practice for the teaching profession across the island and identifying key challenges for the next century.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)62-79
Number of pages18
JournalEuropean Journal of Teacher Education
Issue number1
Early online date6 Nov 2020
Publication statusPublished online - 6 Nov 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Funding for research in Education in Northern Ireland has for many years been focused on the ‘wicked issues’, on the seemingly intractable problems (Knox , 23) for which the country, a society still emerging from conflict, is all too infamous and whose impacts on education are well documented. Significant amounts of funding from American philanthropists (notably the International Fund for Ireland and the Atlantic Philanthropies (Knox )) have supported the development of the contrasting models of Shared Education and Integrated Education. The former involves schools working together across the communal divides (shared classes, resources and teachers), and the latter involves large-scale structural change through the creation of new (grant maintained) or transformed schools with pupils from all communities taught by teachers from all communities (McGuinness, Abbott, and Cassidy ; Abbott and McGuinness ). Currently, approximately 7% of schools are integrated (DE ). The latter is seen as a threat to the faith-based education provided by established schools which are attached to religious denominations whilst the former may be viewed as maintaining the status quo. The employment of teachers in Northern Ireland is a unique exception to Northern Ireland’s fair employment regulations; schools can (and often do) choose to employ only teachers from their own community. Milliken, Bates, and Smith (, 1) report a considerable degree of cultural encapsulation in which around one-in-five teachers have had no educational experience outside of their community of origin. ITE in the two University Colleges (Stranmillis and St Mary’s) continues to be largely divided across communal lines whilst the Universities’ PGCE cohorts are integrated. The colleges are each supported strongly by politicians from one ‘side’ of the political divide and this support has been significant in the face of several successive attempts to reform ITE infrastructure (Gardner, ). Relatively little research has focused on the other key divisive dimension of education in Northern Ireland where class segregation has been sustained by economic partisanship (segregation by academic selection at 11, which is tied strongly to economic inequalities) or, indeed, to the many other important dimensions of education research (including teacher education research) which flourish elsewhere in the world, but for which philanthropic funding has not been so readily available. Even the episodically inflamed concerns about PISA scores and the pointed comments in the Chief Inspector’s annual reports produce far fewer waves than the internecine political divisions around segregated schooling. The light of education research has arguably shone much too narrowly for much too long in Northern Ireland, leaving some fundamental educational priorities relatively unilluminated by research. These distinctive issues are absent from the ROI. A further key difference relates to the regulation of research, which in NI, as part of the UK, is subject to expert review in the competitive Research Excellence Framework (REF) whose outcomes are used to allocate government funding. Well documented (Beauchamp et al. ) tensions exist between Schools of Education with their emphasis on professional education and concomitant time-consuming regulation and student teacher supervision during school experience and other university departments where these are not required and there is more time for research.

Funding Information:
While presented in a sequential manner, the structure of this chapter should not allow the reader to believe that there are not strong, professional cross-border links. The work of Teacher Educators on either side of the border is, perhaps, most strongly interconnected via the unique cross-border teacher education network, SCoTENS (the Standing Conference on Teacher Education, North and South), which developed in the wake of the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement. Belief in the power of collaboration to bridge differences, and with the ambition to develop the research capacity of teacher educators both in Northern Ireland and in the Republic of Ireland, SCoTENS organises annual conferences and doctoral seminars, provides seed-funding for north-south, collaborative research projects, (over 100 of these to date) and facilitates cross-border student teacher exchanges (Furlong, Pendry, and Mertova ). It is funded by its membership (HEIs, Curriculum Authorities, Teaching Councils, CPD providers, etc.) and by the relevant government departments, north and south. However, the potential fragility of these cross border links has been highlighted since 2017 when both DE and DFE in Northern Ireland withdrew their annual tranches of funding, leaving a somewhat lopsided funding arrangement which must have the potential to curtail the impact of SCoTENS’ north-south collaborations and the formal and informal cross-fertilisation of ideas and expertise which they provide.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 Association for Teacher Education in Europe.

Copyright 2020 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Teacher professionalism
  • Ireland
  • Northern Ireland


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