Education Minister criticised over comments on teacher shortages

Fianna Fáil's education spokesperson said the comments go “completely against” the experiences of teachers

Education Minister criticised over comments on teacher shortages

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Fianna Fáil has insisted the Minister for Education needs to “take his head out of the sand” regarding a shortage of teachers in Irish schools.

It comes after Minister Richard Bruton said he believed there were enough teachers in training to meet demand.

It was reported this week that there’s been a 62% drop in the number of people applying for teacher training courses - leading to shortages in key subjects.

At the same time primary school managers have warned that 90% Irish schools are facing difficulties finding substitute teachers.

A Department of Education spokesperson said: "The number of permanent full time positions is increasing at over 1,000 per year.

"Due to the additional positions being created young teachers have greater opportunities to take on permanent positions, and as a result some schools may be experiencing issues in hiring teachers to fill temporary or substitute roles"

Teacher shortages

Fianna Fáil education spokesperson, Thomas Byrne told Newstalk that Minister Bruton’s comments go “completely against” the experiences of teachers and school principals around the country.

“There is a major problem with teacher numbers at the moment and the Minister is going to have to get serious about it because the first step to solving the problem is for him to admit that it is there,” he said.

“Everybody else concerned with education in Ireland accepts that there is a problem and they are relying the minister to do something about it.”

He said “a huge amount” of Irish teachers have emigrated abroad, leading to serious shortages in a range of subjects – particularly Irish and physics.

The Department of Education says Minister Bruton has already taken some initial action in this area including collecting data on the issue, ensuring, that as many retiring and retired teachers remain on the Teaching Council register and increasing the limits for employment for a teacher while on career break.

Teachers unions have rejected the Government's overarching public service pay agreement - warning that pay inequality is leading to a "crisis" in teacher recruitment and retention.

Mr Byrne said the government will have to address teacher's pay scales - adding the two tier system that sees recently qualified teachers paid less than their more experienced colleagues needs to be overhauled.

He also pointed to the high cost of teacher education, noting that it can cost more than €10,000 to do a Masters in secondary school teaching.

"This is really critical for our students and for their education," he said.

"The Minister is going to have sure there are enough teachers there to actually meet demand and to teach our young people and to make sure we have the educated workforce and the educated society that we need."

The department, meanwhile, maintains: "Teaching is a very attractive career option, with a starting salary for a teacher straight out of college of nearly €36,000."

Unqualified substitutes

Deputy Byrne said the problems are already plain to see in Irish schools with the difficulties in sourcing substitute teachers.

"When teachers go out sick - and particularly now in flu season - principals find it impossible to find substitutes," he said.

"Already there are a huge amount of unqualified teachers teaching in our schools because qualified substitutes can't be found and eventually that is going to seep into the general teacher population."

However the Department of Education says official data shows unregistered people were employed to substitute in approximately 3% of cases.

A spokesperson said: "Schools are required to employ appropriately qualified and registered teachers and ensure that unemployed teachers should be offered employment in preference to retired teachers."

On the issue of shortages at Secondary School level, the spokesperson admitted some schools have reported shortages in recruiting teachers in specific subjects due to an imbalance in the availability of teachers in certain subjects like Physics, and some foreign languages.

However, Minister Bruton is said to be considering a range of measures to resolve pinch points in certain subjects and has already introduced some interventions.

Teaching abroad

Garrett O’Dowd, co-founder of ‘Teach and Explore,’ an Irish recruitment company that helps teachers find work abroad, said the standard and quality of Irish teachers is now globally recognised.

He said schools in the Middle East, Asia and Europe are crying out for Irish teachers – often with far superior terms and conditions on offer.

He said many teachers who are qualifying now are unable to take up positions in Dublin and other urban areas due to the housing crisis.

“They are actually finding it difficult to pay rent,” he said.

“They are being forced out of the city so to speak because they simply can’t afford to live in Dublin on a teacher’s salary – especially those that qualified after the cuts.

“It is an unfair system at the moment and it is something that needs to be addressed.

“In order to entice these teachers back we have to offer something that makes them want to come home.”

While for many of his company’s recruits, teaching abroad will remain an enticing option, he said it is up to the government to make sure that working abroad is a choice rather than a necessity.

“Children in Ireland are wonderful to teach,” he said.

“It is a great teaching environment to be in and I think we need to offer incentives where obviously everybody is on the same tier system of pay.

“As well as that perhaps we need to look at a system like that in London where they offer a higher salary if you are in a city with higher rents.”