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School principals will have a key role to play if the Government’s STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) report recommendations are to be implemented, according to University of Ulster education expert, Dr Sam McGuinness. 

However, Dr McGuinness says there needs to be greater emphasis on the continuous support and coaching of school principals in Northern Ireland, and will deliver his message in person this week at a meeting of the Northern Ireland Assembly’s Education Committee.

The STEM report highlighted the importance of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics within the education system and the need for more young people with STEM qualifications if Northern Ireland’s economy is to grow and gain a competitive edge in the global marketplace. 

Dr McGuinness is a lecturer in Educational Leadership at the Coleraine campus of the University of Ulster and member of the working group invited to consider the STEM report recommendations. A former chemistry teacher, he has almost twenty years experience as a post primary principal, first as principal of Cookstown High School and more recently of Limavady Grammar School.

The STEM Report included a number of recommendations initiatives to promote the development of STEM subjects in schools. Dr McGuinness however says they should not be considered a ‘wish list’. 

“The STEM report recommendations must be implemented – but this will not happen by accident. There needs to be greater support to ensure effective leadership from school principals.” 

Dr McGuinness said that effective implementation of STEM recommendations will not happen merely by wishing for it, or even by strongly encouraging schools to adopt strategies to implement them.  

“Effective implementation may be achieved by making them mandatory though such an approach is fraught with problems. School leadership, principals and governors must appreciate that their focus, while remaining firmly on the pupils in their charge, is also on our economy. This is to ensure that there is a vibrant manufacturing-based economy complementing our aspirant knowledge-based economy for the pupils to shape and to benefit from.   

Dr McGuinness continued: “It is my view that successful implementation of these recommendations requires the development of School Leadership.  If we want schools to embrace STEM, then school leadership must be conscious that their mission is much higher than that expressed in many school prospectuses; a significant part of their mission must be the development of young people who will galvanize the NI economy.  

He adds that one of the aims of the Specialist Schools initiative was to contribute to the development of good leadership in schools. 

It is widely acknowledged that effective school leadership plays a key role in improving school outcomes by influencing the motivations and capacities of teachers, as well as the school climate and working environment. 

Dr McGuinness concluded: “It is my contention that Northern Ireland needs to put more emphasis on the continuous support and coaching of school principals. This can be achieved by expanding the excellent work of the Regional Training Unit, but also by a major development of the Masters level Leadership and Management programmes currently available in our universities.”

The MEd programmes in School Leadership are currently offered by both the University of Ulster and QUB. The University of Ulster MEd in leadership is based on a mix of face-to-face activities complemented by a strong online component, a virtual learning environment, which participants can access 24/7. The School of Education at Ulster plans to increase greatly the number of new students on the MEd starting in September 2010.

The working group, chaired by Joanne Stuart, Chairman of the Institute of Directors and Director of Attrus Ltd of Newtownards will give a presentation to the Education Committee at Stormont this week. Other group members include Professor Roger Woods of the Institute of Electronics, QUB and Clare Passmore of Matrix, the NI Science Industry Panel.