As Martin Barrow bows out as director of education after a 36-year career with the department he admits his toughest challenge was the falling education budget of the last five years.
Despite that, he said the resulting changes – including the privatisation of pre-schools and introduction of university tuition fees – were the ‘best decisions available at the time’.
And he said residents should be ‘justly proud’ of the current education system.
Mr Barrow said: ‘The biggest challenge I faced professionally has been about the need to reduce budgets over the last five years.
‘There were really difficult decisions about delivery with pre-school education and student fee awards [university tuition fees].
‘Dealing with real people and real people’s lives and the impact was potentially going to be huge.
‘What we have done with pre-schools I genuinely believe will, over time, lead to better provision than ever.’
He said the system was now fairer – and that last year over 90 per cent of families had some state-funded pre-school provision, adding: ‘Whether that’s considered to be sufficient is another question. We are now looking at ways to put more funding in.’
And in terms of the introduction of university tuition fees and student loan system, he insisted: ‘Students do still have a good deal compared with other parts of the British Isles, particularly England.’
Describing these controversial changes, he said: ‘Given the budgetary pressures we were under we made the best decisions that were available to us at that time, and in the longer term will allow us to maintain our core provision at a level that’s appropriate.’
He said the DEC faced ‘a range of challenges going forward’. Once a decision has been made about GCSE exam reform, a decision will then need to be made about the broader 14-16 offer, including vocational qualifications.
‘The other challenge for us in education is about making sure we adapt to meet the needs of our community, in particular employers,’ he said.
‘We are seeing a development of the need for ICT skills. That’s something we are going to need to sit down with employers on so we can adapt.’
Mr Barrow taught in a number of schools before being appointed head teacher at Andreas. It was while there that he enjoyed the highlight of his career –celebrating the school’s centenary in 2003.
More than 300 people attended regional public meetings to find out options for GCSE reform ahead of the launch of a public consultation on Wednesday next week.
The options are to follow England’s changes, switch to the International GCSE offered by Cambridge University or move to the Scottish examination system of National 4 and National 5 qualifications.
DEC co-ordinating advisor for 11-19 education Paul Craine said: ‘I’m happy any of the three options we could make work here. I’m happy any of the three options would provide our young people with a good education system.’
He said the DEC remained open-minded, and needed to hear the views of interested parties such as parents, employers and teachers before making a decision.