Teacher shortage plan a ‘sticking plaster’, says union

By Niall Murray, Education Correspondent

A Government plan to help alleviate shortages of teachers facing primary and second-level schools has been described by a teachers’ union as a “sticking plaster”.

Dedicated teacher recruitment websites, attracting emigrant teachers home, and a campaign to increase the profile of the teaching profession are among the measures announced by Education Minister Joe McHugh.

They feature in a 21-point action plan that follows the announcement in March of extra places over two years on third-level courses leading to second-level teaching qualifications, focused on subjects in which schools are struggling to find staff. The plan was formulated by a Department of Education-led working group to combat severe teacher shortages.

Mr McHugh said innovative ways must be found to resolve the teacher supply issue.

“There are many Irish teachers all over the world who would happily return home and we need to explore better engagement with the diaspora and find convenient ways for them, through the use of digital technology, to avail of online recruitment processes,” he said.

According to the action plan, however, options to recruit teachers employed in other countries will not be explored until early next year. It is one of a number of actions that is to be undertaken by the department and the Teaching Council, which is also expected to help set up an online portal for teacher recruitment from next summer.

However, the Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) said the plan does not address the root causes of the current crisis in Irish schools, which it says are pay inequality, the continuing casualisation of the profession and absence of promotional opportunities.

TUI president Seamus Lahart said: “Any merit that the proposals may have is greatly diluted by the failure to supplement them with substantive measures that tackle the real issues.

This means that the action plan is little more than a list of ‘sticking plaster’ measures.

He said teacher recruitment problems are likely to worsen in the coming years over pay inequality, “because the discrimination is most significant in the initial years of employment as a teacher”.

The union recently voted to accept a deal that goes some way to closing the pay gap between teachers who started working before or since 2011, but has sought a meeting with Mr McHugh to discuss outstanding issues.

Irish National Teachers’ Organisation members have voted against the deal and will hold a ballot on industrial action in support of their campaign on the equal pay issue shortly. Its executive decided on Wednesday to hold a series of meetings with members, which will gauge the nature of action that might be taken and what would be required to resolve the matter satisfactorily.

The Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland opened school-based ballots on the pay proposals yesterday, with a result likely by next weekend.

Meanwhile, the Teaching Council this week published a report highlighting the need for closer partnership between colleges providing teaching degrees and schools where students undertake their teaching placements. The researchers at University College Cork and Dublin City University, who compiled the study for the council, also recommend better supports for teachers in placement schools who work with student teachers.

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