Teacher shortages in key subjects ‘set to get worse’

Growing school population fuels concerns over supply in science, maths and Irish

Schools report major problems finding qualified teachers in areas such as Irish, European languages, home economics and maths.

Schools report major problems finding qualified teachers in areas such as Irish, European languages, home economics and maths.

 

Teacher shortages in key subjects are set to get much worse unless immediate action is taken, a conference has been told.

At present schools report major problems finding qualified teachers in areas such as Irish, European languages, home economics and maths. It is also a problem at primary level where many schools say they are struggling to find substitute staff to cover short-term absences.

Speaking at the recent Hibernia College Teaching Fair in Dublin, Brian Mooney, a guidance counsellor at Oatlands College, Dublin, and Irish Times education analyst, said demographic factors means the issue is set to worsen.

The age profile of registered teachers is a concern with one quarter of all teachers aged 45 or over, he said.

“With far fewer teachers going all the way to the traditional retirement age of 65 than in the past, this is likely to exacerbate the teaching-shortage problem,” said Mr Mooney.

Any initiative addressing future teaching shortages must include measures to attract more males into the profession, he said. Latest figures show the teaching population is mainly female with males accounting for just 15 per cent of positions at primary level, rising to 31 per cent at second level.

“Teacher shortages for specific subjects such as Stem (science, technology, engineering and maths) and Irish add another dimension to the problem leading to more teachers teaching ‘out of field’,” Mr Mooney said.

“This happens more often with newly-qualified teachers and non-permanent teachers, as they are less likely to turn down the hours given their more vulnerable status.

“An indication of the severity of the problem is the recent report that Minister for Education Richard Bruton is considering allowing student teachers teach these subjects.”

On the issue of permanency, he said, the reality was far from the public perception of a “ job for life”, with fewer than half (42 per cent ) of teachers registered with the Teaching Council on permanent status.

“So, while the current problem of teacher shortages is well known, things could very quickly get worse unless Government takes both immediate and longer-term actions to increase teacher numbers,” he said. The growing school population is set to be another pressure point, with numbers at primary level set to peak at just under 575,000 next year.

The wave of primary students will soon land on the shores of the post-primary sector which forecasts a peak of 400,000 by 2025, he said.

“The greater shortage of teachers will therefore be manifest in the post-primary sector and as we know that an excellent education system is key to our economic success – all the more so, post-Brexit – then the Government must act now to increase teacher supply,” Mr Mooney said.

Career change

This could be done by encouraging more people to undertake career-change programmes and by making the job more attractive by giving young teachers an entitlement to an increasing minimum number of teaching hours with every year of service. This, he suggested could involve reaching a full contract of 22 hours within five years, which would increase the number of permanent full-time positions.

The Department of Education, in co-ordination with the third-level institutions providing teacher-training programmes, also need to plan for the training of specific numbers of teachers in each curricular subject, he said. This should be based on the demographic profile of the current teaching workforce and the existing shortages of specific subject teachers already identified.

“We cannot educate our growing population of young people to the highest standards by leaving it to the market to provide the full range of subject teachers which the system requires,” Mr Mooney said.