Dáil debates

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Shortage of Teachers: Motion [Private Members]


2:00 pm

Photo of Thomas ByrneThomas Byrne (Meath East, Fianna Fail) | Oireachtas source

I move:

That Dáil Éireann, recognising the importance of teachers and valuing the contribution that the profession has made to Irish society —accepts that:
— a real crisis exists whereby demand for substitute teachers vastly exceeds supply both at primary and second-level schools;

— there are major challenges in Irish second-level schools in securing the right teachers, with the right subject combinations, to ensure that all pupils can study the subjects of their choosing;

— pay inequality has contributed to a teacher recruitment and retention crisis that will continue to have severe repercussions for the school system unless it is urgently tackled;

— during this crisis, hundreds of Irish teachers are working abroad on a temporary basis;

— the report of the Teaching Council entitled ‘Striking the Balance - Teacher Supply in Ireland: Technical Working Group Report’, while completed in December 2015, was not published for some 18 months until the matter was raised a number of times in the Dáil; and

— the Minister for Education and Skills has been slow to address this issue and was mistaken in his view expressed in May 2017, that his Department ‘does not have evidence of a general shortage of primary teachers, including for substitute teachers’, and that his Department was mistaken in the view expressed in January 2018, whereby it stated that ‘there is no overall problem with teacher supply’;
acknowledges that:
— problems of teacher supply and supply of substitutes are widespread across Ireland;

— many unqualified persons are supervising children where no substitute teacher can be found;

— all relevant education partners find extreme difficulties recruiting teachers with Gaeilge, and teachers of foreign languages, and as a result schools are reported to be considering dropping language provision, and that fears have been expressed for the future of our national language;

— teachers of STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects are in extremely short supply with numbers training to be such collapsing;

— overall applications to become second-level teachers have dropped precipitously, from almost 3,000 in 2011 to just over 1,000 in 2017, with only 600 applications this year as of 9th January, 2018, with an extended closing date;

— the cost to become a teacher by obtaining a Postgraduate Masters in Education (PME) is increasingly expensive and it can cost up to €15,000 to complete a PME;

— there is no organization of PMEs by the Department whatsoever in terms of subjects and taking up to six years to study to be a second-level teacher is considered unnecessary;

— special schools, special education, children with special educational needs and children in schools serving disadvantaged communities are suffering disproportionately from this crisis;

— the number of teacher retirements is significantly way ahead of Department of Education and Skills forecasts;

— the Minister’s proposal to recruit homemakers on to Springboard courses to enable them to become teachers has not been acted on and neither has any other proposal of the Minister; and

— the education partners have been vocal during this crisis and have come forward with numerous ideas and solutions;
and calls on the Government to:
— agree a roadmap with teaching unions on how full pay equality will be achieved and in conjunction with that organize a recruitment and advertising campaign aimed at bringing home young Irish teachers temporarily working abroad;

— establish substitute supply panels again at primary level;

— consider, on a temporary basis, allowing teachers who job share to substitute during their days off in their own schools;

— further expand, on a temporary basis, the opportunity for teachers on career break to act as substitutes;

— make it easier for retired teachers to act as substitutes in the short-term, but ensure that this in no way interferes with the normal teaching labour market;

— reconsider the need for a second year in PME programmes;

— rapidly expand undergraduate programmes of initial teacher education to qualify people to be second-level teachers;

— ensure that teachers based in Northern Ireland can register to teach in the Republic of Ireland in an efficient, economic and fair way;

— ensure that teachers qualified abroad are facilitated into the Irish education system in a reasonable way;

— expedite the work started following the publication of the 2015 Teaching Council Report; and

— establish a body within the Department of Education and Skills working with education partners tasked with coordinating policy matters concerning teacher supply.

I will be sharing time with Deputies Breathnach, Lawless, Aindrias Moynihan, O'Loughlin and Smyth. This issue has been bubbling away in the education system and teaching profession for several years. The motion states that a real crisis exists whereby substitute teachers at primary level cannot be sourced and, in many cases, schools cannot get the right teachers for the right subjects at second level. This crisis has several causes but the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Bruton, has denied it exists. As recently as spring 2017, less than a year ago, the Minister said there was no issue regarding substitute teachers at primary level. The latest mantra from the Department of Education and Skills is that there is currently no overall problem with teacher supply.

I welcome the teachers, principals and union representatives who are present in the Public Gallery. I would have liked for more teachers to be here but those teaching at primary level are either finishing their job or starting the second part of the job, which is preparing for tomorrow's classes, while second level teachers are probably still in class.

I welcome their representatives to the Public Gallery.

This problem has been denied and denied. As a result, action has not been taken. When the Minister was put on the spot about this problem by the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals, NAPD, last year, he said he was going to encourage homemakers to take free Springboard courses. That was top-of-the-head and back-of-the-envelope stuff from the Minister because it was not acted upon. I do not believe it was ever a serious proposition. The very fact that it was put forward as an idea in the public media showed how little the Minister thought of this problem. The Fianna Fáil leader, Deputy Micheál Martin, made the accusation this morning that the Minister for Education has been lethargic and inept on this issue. I have already outlined the Minister's slowness in realising that there is a problem. That lack of realisation continues to this day and is reflected in the motion before the House.

The Government does not recognise there is a problem at all on this issue. This lack of recognition is also evident in the suppression of the report Striking the Balance: Teacher Supply in Ireland, which was submitted to the Minister's predecessor, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, in 2015. The report was sat on for 18 months. I raised the matter of the report twice during Priority Questions and wondered where it was. Teachers, unions and a number of former Ministers for Education and Skills all saw this as a problem and asked me to highlight it. The report was finally published last June.

The truth is that we have a system of educating and training teachers that is in a mess. There is undergraduate provision to qualify people as second-level teachers. While that exists, it is currently underdeveloped. The postgraduate masters degree in education has, let us be honest, been a failure. It it in urgent need of a review, as is called for in the motion. The postgraduate masters degree in education for second-level teaching can cost up to €15,000 after one has completed the three or four-year primary degree. It is no surprise that number of graduates studying for this decreased from 3,000 in 2011 to way fewer than 1,000 this year. The numbers have gone down by nearly 75%. This is a shocking statistic and yet the Minister remains in denial. Let us remember that the implementation of the Minister's plans and policies for the Irish school system - be it in the context of his promoting careers advice under pressure from Deputies this side of the House or promoting subjects such as science, coding, maths and foreign languages - depends on having good, qualified and professional teachers available. The Minister's policies are threatened by the lack of availability of good-quality, educated professionals. The fact that the Minister is in denial is a real problem.

There is a major issue regarding substitute teachers in primary schools. Considering all the training days that teachers are required to do - and days for other purposes when they are outside the school for sickness and so on - the Minister is presiding over a crisis where there are no substitute teachers available to teach those children. The Minister can say it is a problem of success and that all the positions are full. While this is partially correct, it is also the case that the Minister has not looked at some of the initiatives that have been put forward by the Irish National Teachers Organisation, INTO, regarding teacher supply panels. I do not know why they have not been looked at yet.

The Minister is also ignoring the elephant in the room. Perhaps it is not a surprise that he is ignoring this particular elephant. I refer to teachers who are working abroad. Yesterday, the Taoiseach encouraged people to go abroad. I felt like a fool when the Taoiseach said that because I have brought forward this motion, which specifically calls on the Government to engage in a recruitment drive to encourage young professionals to come home to teach in Ireland in order that we might show them how highly we value them as teachers. This is being utterly undermined by the Taoiseach, along with any of the plans the Minister may have boiling away in the back of the Department to encourage people to come home, although we have not seen much evidence of that. It is utterly destroyed by the Taoiseach's suggestion that all is grand, that we do not want these people and that they should make their money abroad and then come home. He is out of touch with reality and what he said badly affects our children.

This is the first time a range of solutions relating to the crisis has been put forward in one motion. I do not claim to be the fount of all knowledge. The fount of all knowledge is the education partners. They put forward these ideas to the Minister, to me and to the Joint Committee on Education and Skills. In this motion, we have distilled some of the ideas we approved of. I am willing to listen to the debates and suggestions by Members of the House to try to put pressure on the Minister to act on this crisis.

Let us consider the foundations of the crisis that is sending teachers abroad and that encourages constituents - such as one I met last week and who is studying chemistry in Dublin City University - to not become teachers. First of all there are costs associated with the postgraduate qualification and then there is the pay scale inequality. This is at the root of this crisis. It is about time that this was admitted. Teachers are saying, in their correspondence with me and in their comments on the public airwaves, that they do not feel valued. They do not feel that the State wants them, values them or wants to pay them properly. They are on a different pay scale. We have rehashed the arguments in this House time and again. It is about time that the Minister became a champion for those teachers. If the Minister took on the rhetoric that I have taken on, publicly and among his Government colleagues in Cabinet, it would have a transformative effect on the perceptions that young teachers have of themselves and of how members of the public regards their career. By refusing to take that step and advocate for pay scale equality the Minister is contributing to the negative impression that young teachers have of themselves and how they feel they are valued by the Government.

As so many of my colleagues who are anxious to speak on this issue, I shall yield time. I will be back, however, and I look forward to listening to the remainder of the debate.


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