Not enough qualified secondary teachers in key subjects - principals

Principals warn Government that urgent action is needed to tackle staffing ‘crisis’

Minister for Education Richard Bruton: The Minister has pledged a number of steps including using more trainee and retired teachers. Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

Minister for Education Richard Bruton: The Minister has pledged a number of steps including using more trainee and retired teachers. Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

 

Urgent action is needed to address a growing staffing shortage in secondary schools which is depriving students of qualified teachers to teach key subjects, according to principals.

At its annual conference on Friday, the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals will warn Minister for Education Richard Bruton that many students do not have qualified teachers in areas such as science, maths or languages.

Speaking ahead of the address, the association’s president, Cathnia Ó Muircheartaigh, said the situation will worsen unless swift action is taken.

He said better pay and conditions for teachers and school leaders are needed to help compete with more favourable rates in areas such as the Middle East.

“This is creating a staffing shortage in the educational sector, despite the hundreds of students who graduate as teachers each year,” Mr Ó Muircheartaigh said.

‘Huge strain’

“This puts a huge strain on school leadership and threatens the viability of student activities and professional development opportunities for existing staff.”

A report on the issue of teacher supply published earlier this year by Mr Bruton found that while Ireland is producing enough teachers to meet demand, there are shortages in key areas such as science and languages.

In response to the report’s findings, Mr Bruton pledged a number of steps including using more trainee and retired teachers.

Separately, the Teaching Council, the Higher Education Authority and other education partners are exploring ways of increasing the supply of teachers in key areas.

Mr Ó Muircheartaigh also called for a national school admissions policy which is “fair, transparent, and realistic”.

“The practice whereby parents apply for multiple places in different schools is making planning of school placement unworkable,” he said.

Uncertainties

“Our association recognises that this is happening as a response to uncertainties around admissions. However, it is exacerbating the admissions problem and must end.”

He will also call for a review of the State exams and the emphasis on league tables which, he says, is putting students under acute pressure.

Ensuring the mental health and wellbeing of students creates a context in which learning and educational attainment can flourish

“Hand-in-hand with an emphasis on ensuring students’ mental health, we must reconsider our existing approach to education which puts unnecessary pressure on students, staff and parents to perform well in state exams,” Mr Ó Muircheartaigh said.

The association also wants “ timely access” to counselling for both staff and students.

“Ensuring the mental health and wellbeing of students creates a context in which learning and educational attainment can flourish, rather than becoming a severe source of stress and pressure for students and their families,” Mr Ó Muircheartaigh said.

“Staff also need to be supported in what is often a demanding job, the challenges of which are constantly growing.”

New challenges

While the recovery has brought opportunities, he said principals have also seen new challenges develop.

“We are hugely concerned about the mental health and wellbeing of our students – and indeed our teaching colleagues and principals,” he said.

“We must foster positive, constructive environments in our schools, where mental health is prioritised and protected.

“Access to counselling services directly within our schools, such as are the norm in many other education systems globally, must now be prioritised,” he said.

The current situation whereby we face growing teaching shortages needs to be addressed

He also highlighted that change and adaption will be critical for school-leavers given that the jobs of the future in which most students will be working have yet to be invented.

“Change and adaptation will be at the heart of these young people’s lives. In education, it falls to us, as school leaders, to be at the head of that change, motivating our school communities to embrace the future,” he said

“Science and math subjects in particular play a huge part of the technological leaps that are occurring every day.

“This makes it critical that our schools have an ample supply of qualified teachers to teach these subjects. The current situation whereby we face growing teaching shortages needs to be addressed.”