Richard Bruton seeks €70m more for teacher retirement costs

Education Minister Richard Bruton has insisted that most teaching vacancies are being filled as he sought TDs’ approval for the extra €70m cost of under-estimated teacher retirements.

He attributed his department’s failure to allow for more than half of this year’s 1,773 retirements by teachers and other school staff to a range of factors, including differences in rules on forecasting with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.

Instead of an original estimate of €1.043bn, the cost of pension payments for teaching and non-teaching staff in primary and second-level schools is now expected to reach €1.114bn for 2017.

The bulk of the extra €71m is down to a €67m shortfall for lump sum payments to 950 retirees more than the original projection of 823.

The remaining €4m is required due to an under-provision for ongoing pension costs, while €10m was also approved for higher pension costs for retired third-level staff.

Mr Bruton went to the Oireachtas select education committee seeking approval for these and other increased costs under various headings in this year’s €8.7bn budget for the Department of Education.

Fianna Fáil education spokesman Thomas Byrne asked why retirements were double the number the department had originally projected.

“It looks like people are literally running out of the profession. Why is that? It’s very, very worrying.

“If this kind of retirement rate continues, we’re going to have a much more serious situation in the next few years,” Mr Byrne said.

He asked about the potential impact of retirements on a shortage of teachers. Other members highlighted difficulties reported by many schools, particularly finding substitute teachers at primary level.

The minister said 670 primary teachers and 444 second-level teachers have retired but numbers are not that different from recent years when they varied from 1,000 to around 1,100.

“There hasn’t been a big surge, there’s a difficulty in forecasting in that area,” said Mr Bruton . “Obviously the overall numbers graduating from our initial teacher training is well in excess of those numbers [who have retired], it’s well over 3,000.”

The minister said his department has sanctioned more teachers in recent years, with approval for an extra 2,400 teachers in 2016 and an additional 2,900 last September.

“We’re recruiting rapidly and filling those positions, so it’s not that we can’t recruit the teachers,” he said.

He acknowledged difficulties getting teachers for certain second-level subjects, including sciences, home economics and Irish.

But, he said, initiatives are being considered to attract people studying in those areas into teaching.

The extra money was approved by TDs, who also backed smaller increases to other spending areas, to be partly offset by savings in some education areas.

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