teaching standards now at risk – The Irish Times

Schools are grappling with a problem which appears to be steadily worsening: teacher shortages. At primary level, a recent survey of school leaders found that more than 80 per cent are struggling to plug staffing gaps and are being forced to redeploy special education teachers to teach mainstream classes. At second level, a shortage of qualified teachers in key areas means some schools are being forced to narrow their subject offerings or use “out of field” teachers to take classes which they are not qualified to teach.

Most agree that the problem is linked to the housing crisis, with young teachers in urban areas opting to move to more affordable rural locations. In addition, there is evidence that growing numbers of newly qualified teachers are once again taking up teaching positions in the Middle East and elsewhere. Again, this may be driven at least in part by the cost of housing at home, as underlined again by two surveys on rental levels this week.

Labor shortages are evident rights across the economy in jobs at most pay levels and Minister for Education Norma Foley has said the challenges in sourcing teaching staff are similar to those facing other sectors.

She has taken initiatives aimed at boosting teacher supply such as lifting work restrictions for job-sharing teachers and those on career breaks and has helped to fund the creation of a substitute teacher recruitment portal, which has 12,000 teachers registered. There is a sense among many principals, however, that official figures do not always reflect the reality on the ground. While thousands are registered to work as substitutes, schools frequently report that none are available. In some cases, teacher supply panels – created to ensure schools have easy access to substitutes at short notice – are empty.

More creative solutions are urgently needed. Financial incentives for third-level students to train as teachers in key subjects should be explored. At the moment two-year masters programs which allow students with other degrees to qualify as teachers can be financially costly as well as leading to a long time spent in college.

Specialized teachers should be made available across groups of schools. Second level contracts should emphasize longer hours, rather than offering teachers fragments of jobs, involving restricted hours. Remuneration which reflects the reality of rental costs in urban areas is crucial.

Our education system rightly has an excellent reputation globally. We cannot take it for granted. The quality of teaching across primary and secondary schools is now at risk.

Young people deserve to be taught by qualified staff who have the skills to help them reach their potential. The most vulnerable, especially, should never lose out.

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