St Mary's teaching college to hold most classes online

By Robbie Meredith
BBC News NI Education Correspondent

A stock image of a laptopImage source, PA Media

St Mary's University College has told students most classes will be held online until at least Halloween.

The west Belfast college has more than 1,000 students taking degrees in education and many will go on to teach.

Principal Prof Peter Finn said it was taking a "cautious approach" towards resuming teaching.

"The trend in Covid-19 infections is steadily increasing and arrangements for testing are not as effective as we would want them to be," he said.

The new academic year at St Mary's is due to begin on 28 September, although inductions for new students will be held before that.

"Face-to-face classroom teaching is considered the optimum form of curriculum delivery at St Mary's," a guidance document to students said.

"However, in the context of a 'safety first' approach, the predominant mode of delivery until at least 30 October 2020 will have most courses offered remotely and online."

The document said some courses which involved practical training or laboratory work would be postponed until 2021 or offered only to limited numbers of students before Christmas.

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Image caption,
St Mary's has about 1,000 students studying education degrees

"For the purposes of clarification, students should note that most classes will be online," it said.

In his email accompanying the document, Prof Finn said the teaching arrangements would be reviewed after five weeks.

"We understand that the college's present position will not meet with the approval of all students," he said.

"It is certainly my hope that we will have more classes on campus after Halloween.

"I have a strong desire to open up the campus to a greater extent if public health conditions and government guidance allow for this."

In a separate email following complaints about behaviour in Belfast's Holyland area, Prof Finn said all St Mary's students should observe coronavirus regulations and restrictions.

"This morning I listened to the BBC Radio Ulster coverage of student behaviour in the Holyland area of Belfast yesterday and I hope that none of our students were involved in what was being reported," he said.

"If you were involved, please think again and reconsider your behaviour."

'Constantly evolving'

Stranmillis University College - which educates about 1,500 prospective teachers - also said it was aiming to mix online and face-to-face teaching.

"It is clear that some modules will require more face-to-face contact than others and the balance of face-to-face and blended learning may well change during the year in line with safety guidelines," the college said in a statement to BBC News NI.

"Guidance around the management of the virus situation is constantly evolving and ever changing and we must respond to that."

The college said it would provide more detailed information to students as soon as possible.