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Proof that we need pay restoration: Schools are resorting to offering accomodation in order to attract teachers

President of the Teacher’s Union of Ireland Seamus Lahart says students, schools and teachers will suffer if action is not taken to address the recruitment and retention crisis.

Seamus Lahart

WE HEAR STORIES every day: A school in Limerick can’t get a Physics teacher. A school in Cork can’t get a Maths teacher. A Chemistry teacher leaves a Kildare school for a better option in the pharmaceutical industry. In desperation, a school in Dublin offers free accommodation to any Home Economics teacher but still can’t source one.

While the proposal on new entrant pay announced this week represents further movement, it won’t of itself deliver pay equality. And because the most significant difference in salary scales for those appointed before and after 1st January 2011 will still be in the initial career stage, the crisis of teacher recruitment and retention will remain and possibly worsen in the coming years.

Graduates will vote with their feet and schools will continue to struggle, and in some cases fail, to recruit and retain suitably qualified teachers across a range of subjects until this injustice is comprehensively addressed.

Housing worries

In many instances, extortionate accommodation costs in cities and large towns are resulting in teachers choosing to seek opportunities elsewhere.

A technology teacher I spoke to earlier this month left a full-time post in Dublin to take up a contract of part-time hours in a school nearer his family home in Tipperary. He had done the maths, and the switch from his city apartment back to his childhood bedroom left him with a higher disposable income and a better chance of saving even a meagre amount each month.

However, this is only one factor, as we have also had reports from rural areas that similar recruitment issues are arising there, often because part-time contracts are all that are on offer in particular subject areas in smaller schools.   

So is it a crisis?

Surely it must be when parents see the range of optional subjects decrease in their children’s schools. Even allowing for an element of flux at the start of any school year, recruitment problems are evident both across the country and across a broad range of subjects including, but not limited to, Modern Languages, Mathematics, Science, Irish, Home Economics and the technologies. 

By their very nature, schools are innovative and will do everything they can to provide the full range of subjects, but it is becoming increasingly difficult to do so, given the absolute shortage of qualified teachers in certain areas.

It is an indictment of the current system that a spell teaching in the Middle East has come to be seen as a necessity for young teachers seeking to scrape together a deposit for a mortgage. We are exporting one of our best resources.

What is of even greater concern is that those who might once have considered teaching or have qualified as teachers are simply choosing to work in other professions. For example, large numbers of Home Economics graduates are headhunted by private industry in the agri-food area before they ever stand in front of a class, receiving better salaries and job security from the commencement of their careers in industry.

Unattractive profession 

There has been a fall of over 50 percent in the numbers applying for places on the Professional Master of Education (PME) postgraduate teacher education courses between 2011 and 2018. It is no coincidence that this comes at a time when the HDip allowance, formerly payable to holders of the qualification, was withheld for new entrants, as was a starting point on the scale that recognised the training period.

Another significant factor is that a second level teacher rarely earns a ‘full’ salary from the get-go.The great majority start with part-time hours and struggle to get by, often relying on family to supplement income. I know of teachers who struggle to get by on contracts of just four or six hours a week.

A TUI survey earlier this year found that just 22 percent of new entrants to teaching received a contract for full hours in their first year of teaching. The stark effect is that four out of every five new teachers at second level earn just a fraction of the starting salary that is so often referenced by the Minister.

Moreover, they get their first teaching post at an average age of 26, often saddled with debt after six years of study. Strikingly and worryingly, in the same survey, 52 percent said that they would not advise a younger relative to pursue the profession of teaching.

This crisis in recruitment and retention is damaging to students, schools and to the thousands of young teachers that we lose to other jurisdictions or other forms of employment. Until full pay equality and full-time hours are delivered, these problems will endure, and everybody will suffer.  

Seamus Lahart is President of the Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI), which represents teachers and lecturers in the Post-Primary, Further/Adult and Higher Education sectors.

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Seamus Lahart

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