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My education journey

Wednesday, 23rd January, 2019 4:33pm

Ted Owens talks to us about his career as he heads into his retirement from his role as the Chief Executive of Cork Education & Training Board:

It is with great pride that I look back on my career in the education sector and reflect on how far the industry and Cork Education & Training Board (CETB) have come. Retirement was not a decision I made lightly, but on a visit to one of our new primary schools, Scoil Aonghusa Community National School in Mallow, a young student informed me I was teaching for more years than her mother is alive. I took this as a sign as time for me to hang up my boots!

Looking back on the last 42 years - even as I write that, 42 years - it’s amazing to see how our education system and schools have developed and advanced during my career.

As I think back to the beginning of my educational journey, I have to mention how supportive and encouraging my parents were. They instilled the importance of getting a good education, which would indeed set me up for life. It’s hard to imagine now, but my parents are of a generation where youngsters, such as themselves, didn’t get the chance to progress beyond primary school.

I consider myself extremely lucky to have met with some amazing and inspiring people, making life-long friendships along the path of my career.

I have travelled the length and breadth of the county over the last four decades, having worked in wonderful communities, all unique and different with their own quirks and traits.

I started out in Mallow Vocational School and this is where I developed my philosophy on education. From Mallow, I went to St Aidan’s Community College, which was then a green-field school in Cork city’s northside. I learnt a lot about school management and organisation in that college.

After St Aidan’s, I headed west to the rural community of Beara in 1990 and to this day, Beara holds a special place in my heart. Although you could say it’s one of the most remote places in the country, my family and I really loved it and when it was time to say goodbye to the west, I did so with a heavy heart.

Having been there for 10 years, I moved on once again and took up the role of principal in what was at the time the brand new Glanmire Community College, something I’m very proud of. It was a real challenge for me, being one of the contributing members that got this new school off to such a successful start and I’m proud to say there’s now over 1,000 students enrolled.

I then had a relatively short spell as Education Officer in County Cork VEC (Vocational Education Committee) from 2000 to 2005 and following that, I was appointed chief executive in the City VEC. I went on to retain this role of chief executive in CETB following an amalgamation of the VECs and FÁS in Cork, and this is where I worked out my days.

It was an extremely challenging role, and with a spotlight on lifelong learning in recent years, I can testify to learning something new at every turn. While being tested by various facets of the job, I wouldn’t change a thing, as witnessing the successes of students both young and old, it couldn’t have been more rewarding.

Looking back on my career, there have been some tremendous highs and admittedly some low points. However, the highs outweigh any of these disappointments, and I can say I’m particularly proud of how far the level of education now provided in Cork has flourished. Year on year, I am astounded by the increasing opportunities now available to people returning to education and it gives me great pleasure to see the vast array of applicants looking to take up on further education, training and third level courses.

The CETB is continuing to strive forward, with student needs and interested at their core. In the coming months and years, the people of Cork will see the completion of a number of extensions currently planned for Mallow, Fermoy, Midleton, Clonakilty and Ballyvourney, with new school buildings due in Carrigaline, Carrigtwohill, Coachford and Ballincollig.

In CETB we have always, and will continue, to focus on inclusivity for all but not on the expense of a quality. We don’t discriminate on the basis of ability, social class or religious background, but challenge each individual and support them as best we can on their educational journey, whether that leads them to third level education or directly into the workforce.

One of the biggest problems our schools face for the next academic year is how to curtail enrolments as many of our schools are over-subscribed. This is a challenge, but I must admit, it’s a welcome development because it’s now recognised that while our schools provide inclusive education, they also provide a quality service.

I am truly thankful to the people who stood side by side with me over the years and there’s no doubt that I could not have accomplished what I have to date without the guidance and support of this wonderful team of colleagues, and friends. I look forward to taking a rest over the next few months and finish by saying a word to the individual who will take my place; I wish them every success in this challenging but rewarding role, and have no doubt that the wonderful team support that I have been privileged to know over the past 42 years will too carry them through this exciting journey.

Míle buíochas,

Ted Owens

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