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Monday 4 December 2023 Dublin: 2°C

'It will drive people away': Student teachers on the potential threat to career breaks

One teacher suggested that staff may simply resign and emigrate to teach elsewhere.

UNIONS AND STUDENT teachers have hit out against a proposal discussed in Cabinet on Tuesday in which career break entitlements for teachers could be changed in order to cope with the shortage of staff in schools around the country.

At an incorporeal Cabinet meeting this week, it is understood that Education Minister Norma Foley received approval for a number of measures to deal with ongoing problems around teacher shortages. 

A career break is a period of one school year (which can be extended for up to five years) in which a teacher can leave their position subject to approval from their employer.

The Minister has stated that no decision on the matter would be made without union consultation, however Ireland’s largest teacher’s union, the Irish National Teacher’s Organisation (INTO) stated yesterday that it “deplores the Minister for Education’s lack of consultation.”

The union also claimed that it had “not received a single response to a formal request for a meeting made some fifty days ago.”

Criticism was also strong from teaching students, some of whom told The Journal that they saw the proposal as counterproductive to Foley’s goal of retaining teachers.

Oisín Tierzioghlu, a final year student in a secondary school Masters of Education programme, said:

“It will drive people away because teaching is a job for life. People say, ‘they have loads of holidays anyway so what do they need career breaks for?’, but it’s not that simple.”

“If you have a business degree there are so many different careers you can chose from with that and you can jump around a bit but with teaching you just teach. If you want a break but you want to stay in the field then you have a chance to do that,” he explained.

I think getting rid of that option will make people go into early retirement, you’ll make them second guess about teaching. Maybe I want to take my career break soon before I go into 40 years of teaching.

“I don’t think it will lower the amount of teachers much but its definitely not going to solve the issue. 

Niamh Loye, a 29-year-old secondary English teacher, agreed that the idea of an ‘amended’ career break was less appealing.

“I can’t understand why Norma Foley would say ‘let’s get rid of career breaks for teachers,’ and think that will make people want to be a teacher.”

“There’s far more jobs in Dubai, or any of those places we’re losing teachers to, so if people want to take a break and they can’t they’ll just resign and go there.”

Loye is originally from Northern Ireland and studied teaching at Ulster University before starting her career six years ago in Monaghan.

“It was definitely more enticing to come to the south in terms of rights for teachers at the time. That’s what I thought. But now when I’m in the system, I don’t see how teachers are being put first at all.”

“It’s very enticing to take one and it’s good to know that that option is there. You really never know what’s around the corner in your life, like if you wanted to retrain and upskill and still remain in an education.

A final year secondary teaching student who didn’t want to be named added that teaching abroad for a period is an attractive prospect to newly qualified teachers.

“I did some time teaching in Belgium through my course and it was really good experience, half of my course if not more want to teach abroad at some stage in the near future on a career break,” she said.

“They don’t want to emigrate but if they can’t get a career break to travel or they are abroad and are told their career break is ending, they have no incentive to return because the cost of living is so high.” 

“I’m paying €850 plus bills for a room near my college in Dublin and it’s a struggle to afford as a student. When I’m a newly qualified teacher it won’t be much easier,” she added.

Solutions to the crisis

Tierzioghlu and Loye added that their time in education had shown them that there were better ways to recruit and retain teachers than Foley’s proposals.

“If they want to make things better for teachers then decrease the workload in terms of Croke Park hours,” Loye suggested.

Croke Park hours is the term given to the 33 additional hours per year that teachers are required to work outside of their typical teaching duties.

These are typically used for staff meetings, supervision, school planning and policy development, as determined by the Public Sector Agreement 2010-2014 ( or The “Croke Park Agreement”).

Loye added: “There’s a lot more expected of teachers now than ever before and I would understand that if it was to the benefit of students. But it’s all doing paperwork that’s not accounted for. You still have to go in and teach for a week and then deal with all this admin stuff.”

“Lots of established teachers are thinking of leaving the profession, because any of the new rules and regulations that are put in place always seem to be to the detriment of the teacher.”

Tierzioghlu said that a crucial barrier preventing the recruitment of new teachers was the cost of a university education.

“If they really want more teachers why not make the degrees cheaper? I could only afford it because of grants but so many people can’t qualify for grants even though they should.” 

One teaching student highlighted the fact that many of the vacant teaching jobs in the country were in Dublin, where teachers couldn’t afford to live on their salaries and where potential applicants can’t afford to move to.

An Taoiseach, who like Minister Foley is a former teacher, defended the plans in relation to career breaks in response to Mary Lou McDonald during Leader’s Questions today.

“The Deputy is unfair and incorrect to say the first response of the Minister is around career breaks.  It is not and no decision has been made on that,” Micheál Martin said.

“A whole range of initiatives have been taken in respect of teacher supply.  The limits on substitute work applying to teachers on career breaks have also been temporarily suspended.”

Labour’s education spokesperson, Aodháin Ó Ríordáin, also criticised the government’s priorities: 

“Once again, the teacher supply problem is not about Government inaction or about housing, it is actually about teachers again.”

“What the Government wants to have in all of these debates about school reopening during Covid is that it is kind of the teachers’ fault; or regarding lack of places for children with additional needs, again, it is the teachers’ fault; and now, the fact we cannot get teachers is actually the teachers’ fault.  It is unbelievable.” 

In a statement yesterday regarding Minister Foley’s own career break, a Department of Education spokesperson said that no plans have yet been finalised:

“It is important to note that there are no proposals on the table to eliminate career breaks but rather to evaluate current non statutory leave, and to consider whether temporary and modest amendments to these leave schemes could support teacher supply.”

“No decision has been made or will be made without consultation with the partners in education.”

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