Quality of teaching ‘at risk’ due to teacher shortages

‘Out of field’ teachers being used at second level due to issue, says unpublished report

Minister for Education Richard Bruton has been accused of “sitting on the report” and ignoring the  issue of shortages despite the difficulties facing schools. Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

Minister for Education Richard Bruton has been accused of “sitting on the report” and ignoring the issue of shortages despite the difficulties facing schools. Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

 

The quality of teaching across primary and secondary schools is at risk due to a lack of qualified teachers, according to an unpublished report commissioned by the Department of Education.

It finds that at second level there is a shortage of teachers in key subjects – such as Irish, home economics, physics and European languages – which is resulting in the use of “out of field” teachers.

These are teachers who are not specifically qualified in a subject area and lack detailed knowledge of the curriculum.

At primary level, there is significant concern over a major shortage of substitute cover for teachers who are absent due to maternity leave, illness or career breaks.

In an analysis of teaching supply between 2010 and 2015, it found that only two-thirds of absences were actually covered by substitutes.

Unions such as the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) say the emigration of young teachers – especially to the Middle East – is a key factor behind the shortages.

The findings are contained in Striking the Balance, a report prepared by a technical working group linked to the Teaching Council and seen by The Irish Times.

Difficulties

Fianna Fáil’s education spokesman Thomas Byrne TD this week accused Minister for Education Richard Bruton of “sitting on the report”and ignoring the issue despite the difficulties facing schools.

Mr Bruton, however, has pledged to publish the report – which was finalised in December 2015 – over the coming weeks.

He said the Government’s move to hire an extra 4,600 teachers between last September and next September means that teachers who had been emigrating will increasingly be able to find jobs in Irish schools.

At second level, the report notes concerns that the quality of teaching is at risk of being compromised by the use of out-of-field teachers.

It says the needs of schools that teach through Irish require special attention.

While there is evidence of shortages in key areas, the report says there appears to be an over-supply of teachers in history, geography and English.

However, teacher education providers – such as colleges, universities and the private provider Hibernia – have full autonomy to decide on the enrolment of trainees, including in subjects areas which may be over-supplied.

Among the report’s recommendations are the need for a “managed and co-ordinated” approach to the number of teachers graduating to help prevent an under or over-supply.

It also says a new model is needed to identify the supply and demand of teachers as there is no accurate way of measuring these trends at present.

The report notes that teacher over-supply is “far more tolerable in schools than teacher under-supply”.

Insufficient employment

However, it says that constant over-supply can lead to insufficient employment for teachers with the risk that some may choose to abandon teaching when unable to earn a sufficient income.

“When viewed from the perspective of teaching as a profession, which can attract and retain new entrants, there are implications for quality and for pupils learning in this risk,” the report states.

Despite shortages in some areas, it states that at primary level the supply of teachers can continue to meet demand for the next four years.

However, any move to reduce pupil-teacher ratios could change this. As a result, any changes will need to be done in a “planned, incremental manner”.

The issue of teacher shortages in many secondary schools, meanwhile, is getting worse, according to one of the main school management bodies.

Pat O’Mahony of Education and Training Boards Ireland said: “The problem is spreading. We are now seeing shortages in teaching just like we’re seeing in nursing and medicine.

“Schools are doing the best they can, but for student, it can mean being left without a teacher with a qualification in the subject areas in the run-up to the State exams. This is happening right across the system.”