Tackling teacher supply is complex - but we are making progress

Opinion: We must ensure quality and quantity of our teaching profession is enhanced

“As teacher supply and demand is a complex issue, all stakeholders need to come together if we are going to come up with feasible solutions that will have impact” -  Tomás Ó Ruairc. File photograph: iStockPhoto

“As teacher supply and demand is a complex issue, all stakeholders need to come together if we are going to come up with feasible solutions that will have impact” - Tomás Ó Ruairc. File photograph: iStockPhoto

 

In the Irish Times last week, Brian Mooney highlighted a number of issues that are impacting on the supply of teachers into the future.

At the Teaching Council, we have overseen a transformation of the qualifications required to become a teacher.

This has been with a view to ensuring that people who wish to enter the challenging and rewarding profession of teaching have the best education and support we can provide.

Its aim of course is to ensure that children, young people and adult learners are taught by qualified teachers.

We have also been working with the Department of Education and the Higher Education Authority for the last few years on a model of teacher supply and demand.

This work can be seen in our report, Striking the Balance, which was published in June of this year, and also in the interim report published in June 2015.

We must exercise caution before any significant interventions at a national level on teacher supply. In a system as complex as education, with 97,000 teachers, 4,000 schools and almost a million pupils, the law of unintended consequences applies.

We have made great progress since the establishment of the Teaching Council in achieving a fully qualified teaching profession. Everything we do must ensure that the quality as well as the quantity of our teaching profession is maintained and enhanced.

Sufficient supply

While more data is emerging about the challenges that schools are facing in recruiting teachers at both primary and post-primary, we need to enhance our co-ordination of data between demand and supply so as to ensure a sufficient supply of teachers to meet the identified needs of the system.

The good news is that we have made progress on this in collaboration with the Department of Education and the Higher Education Authority.

The data that we have made available through our two reports on teacher supply provide insight into the patterns that are emerging, particularly with post-primary subjects.

We also established a consultative forum on teacher supply which involved all stakeholders, including higher education institutions, school management and teacher unions.

We shared our data with them as it emerged and facilitated conversations between them to begin the process of collaboration that will ultimately enable solutions.

We will reconvene this forum on October 5th - World Teachers’ Day - and we will be asking every stakeholder to explore the practical solutions that we can work on together across the system.

Immensely complex

As teacher supply and demand is an immensely complex issue involving a lot of people, a lot of people need to come together if we are going to come up with feasible solutions that will have impact.

The Teaching Council’s remit in this area is to advise the Department of Education on the matter of teacher supply. We have come to realise that in order for this advice to be meaningful, helpful and to have impact, we need to facilitate conversations between all stakeholders in a spirit of reciprocal vulnerability.

In other words, no one has all the answers, and we must all share responsibility for the solutions.

Analysis overseen by Dr Niall Dodds of the University of Dundee supports the view that raising teachers’ professional status is a key element of addressing teacher supply and demand.

This is consistent with the council’s legal mandate – to promote and regulate the teaching profession, so as to maintain and enhance the quality of teaching and learning in our schools.

Next generation

But it is a mandate that can only be truly fulfilled in collaboration with all stakeholders, and indeed everybody. The way in which we talk from day to day about teachers and teaching will impact on the way in which the next generation of people will come to regard teaching, and therefore whether they choose it as a profession.

The way in which we work together to share information about the needs of our learners, as well as the system, will impact on the employment opportunities for the teachers of our shared future.

Teaching is one of the most demanding, yet rewarding, professions we have. It is also one of the most important, as it impacts upon every person in society.

We owe it to the teachers of the future, to ourselves, and to future generations to work together in ensuring that we continue to have the highest calibre of teachers entering our profession.

* Tomás Ó Ruairc is director of the Teaching Council