Children will be the big losers if equal pay for recent entrants and shortages of substitute teachers are not urgently addressed, the president of the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) said.

With the campaign set to move up a gear in the coming months to get those who began teaching since 2011 on the same pay scales as longer-serving colleagues, John Boyle told the union’s 150th annual congress it was his first priority.

Ahead of debate today on the topic by the 800 delegates, he asked if it is any wonder so many recently-qualified teachers have moved abroad where their expertise is coveted and valued.

The union said a 2012 entrant to teaching will earn €100,000 less over their career than someone who began teaching in 2010. With a €56,000 differential for a 2017 entrant because of some improvements negotiated in recent years, the average annual losses range from €1,400 to €2,500 across a career.

Mr Boyle pointed to last September’s OECD study that showed the starting salary of Irish teachers is below the international average, having once been higher than those in most other countries. “This shows the extent of the cuts to new entrant pay imposed by government in recent years and the pressing need to address pay inequality in the teaching profession,” he said.

But, Mr Boyle said, Education Minister Richard Bruton has yet to accept the principle of pay equality. The minister will address the congress in Killarney this morning but has so far declined to give a commitment on any timeframe for the restoration of pay equality.

The cost of putting all post-2010 public sector education workers on equal pay scales was recently calculated by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform as €83m a year, of which €59m was the cost for teachers hired since the reduced scales were introduced.

Delegates listen to John Boyle, president, as he addresses the INTO conference at the INEC, Killarney on yesterday
Delegates listen to John Boyle, president, as he addresses the INTO conference at the INEC, Killarney on yesterday

Mr Bruton and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar have said the teacher unions’ claims would be considered as part of a wider engagement with cross-sectoral unions, as there is an estimated €200m cost to restoring pay equality across the public service.

Mr Boyle said children’s achievement levels will fall in a few years’ time if the substitution crisis is not dealt with immediately. Schools are reporting increasing difficulties finding teachers to cover short-term and short-notice absences.

The INTO president said the minister’s negative attitude to using supply panels of teachers, having a team of teachers available to principals in their local area to cover short-term and short-notice absences, would lose Ireland its top ranking in international education tests.

“Children only get one chance at primary education. They are entitled to a fully-qualified primary teacher every single day. A minister that can not provide that has no claim to building the best education system in Europe.”

Mr Bruton had said in January that the previous system, operated for many years on a pilot basis but ended in 2010, had been expensive and ineffective.

A motion due to be debated today will, if passed, demand that the Teaching Council address the issue of teacher supply without delay. The council is represented on a working group to consider measures to ease problems for schools, announced by Mr Bruton in January but which only met for the first time last week.

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