Third-level leaders have given assurances that the standards of students taking up teacher training courses remain high.
Among the courses that were predominantly downward when CAO offers issued yesterday were some of the larger primary teaching degrees, which followed a 7.5% drop in students listing education degrees as their first preference. The fall to 4,735 first preferences was linked to more difficult employment prospects and a range of pay cuts to salary scales for new teachers in recent years.
Although the lowest points of entrants to the bachelor of education (BEd) degrees at the two largest providers — St Patrick’s College in Dublin and Mary Immaculate College in Limerick — are down year-on-year by 10 and five points to 460 and 465, respectively, one college president said the calibre of its students remains high.
"The mid-ranked student who started our BEd programme last year had around 500 points in the Leaving Certificate, so we still have the brightest and best training to teach in our schools in the near future," said St Patrick’s College president Daire Keogh.
Points for the main primary teaching degree at Coláiste Mhuire Marino in Dublin fell five to 460. There was a 30-point fall to 405 for entry to teacher training at Church of Ireland College, but it had shot up 40 points a year ago. A 30-point rise for NUI Maynooth’s BEd, which moved there from Froebel College in Dublin, was attributed to a rise in demand after it became the only primary teaching degree taught on a university campus.
"This increase in demand further indicates that teaching is still a profession that attracts high-calibre students," said NUI Maynooth president Prof Philip Nolan.
The figures emerge amid calls — for different reasons — to limit places in teacher-training colleges, although students can still choose to pay for postgraduate teaching degrees at private colleges.
Department of Education inspector Harold Hislop suggested earlier this year that the idea be examined, as international research suggests restricting overall numbers entering the profession can have long-term advantages for schools and teaching.
Irish National Teachers’ Organisation general secretary Sheila Nunan said in April that too many teachers are being trained and recent graduates are being demoralised and forced to look abroad for work.
The Haddington Road Agreement — already accepted by INTO and the subject of ballots next month by the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland and Teachers’ Union of Ireland — includes a part-reversal of some of the cuts to starting salaries in the profession.
The Irish Examiner revealed last month that more than 1,600 teachers who the Department of Education paid at the wrong rates since starting their careers in the last school year were paid arrears averaging almost €2,400 each in June.