Ciara Kenny

The Irish Times forum by and for Irish citizens living overseas,

Hard times for young teachers

Graduates didn’t choose the profession for the pay, but they are finding it increasingly difficult to secure a post in Ireland so are looking abroad

Fri, Jun 14, 2013, 00:01


Ciara Kenny

Catherine Kirby has spent the three years since she graduated from St Patrick’s teacher training college in Thurles sending out CVs, driving around the country introducing herself to principals, brushing up on her interview skills, and doing everything she could to find work as a secondary-school business-studies teacher.

Apart from a successful six-month run covering sick leave in a Limerick school last year, the 26-year-old has got just two weeks substitution work since September 2010. To make ends meet, she has been working part-time in a petrol station.

“In January I decided I had had enough and I was going to England,” she says. “A few of my classmates went over as soon as they qualified but I had it in my head that I’d find something at home, and I wanted to give it my best shot. Last year gave me hope, but this year was devastating.

“I did well in a few interviews, but there was so much competition out there and the feedback I was getting was that I didn’t have enough experience.”

Last month Kirby attended a four-day event in London organised by Engage Education, a UK recruitment agency, and was offered a full-time position in a school in Reading. In August, she will fly over to join two teaching friends and hundreds of other young Irish teachers who have successfully secured jobs in England in recent years after struggling to find work here.

The education system in England is experiencing a critical shortage of teachers at primary and secondary level, with a predicted shortfall of 15,000 by 2015. London and the southeast is worst affected, with teachers of maths, science, English and modern languages in particularly high demand. To fill these vacancies, schools are using specialist recruitment agencies to source underemployed graduates from Ireland, where permanent teaching positions are becoming increasingly hard to secure.

“It is a very worrying time for graduates who are seeking jobs in education here,” says Diarmaid de Paor, deputy general secretary of the Association of Secondary Teachers of Ireland (ASTI). “They didn’t choose the profession for the pay, but because they are passionate about teaching. And if they can’t do that here, they have no alternative but to go abroad.”

Most new teachers spend their first few years substituting or working on short-term contracts, with no guarantees for the following year. The Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) estimates that it takes five years on average for secondary-school teachers to secure a level of permanency, but even then, salaries are often based on part-time hours.

In 2011, an ASTI survey of more than 660 final-year second-level education students found one in 10 were not even going to apply for teaching work in Ireland when they graduated. Reasons cited for looking abroad in pursuit of jobs were: shortage of teaching posts; a reluctance to spend years in part-time positions; and cuts to starting salaries.

Irish graduates ‘well regarded’
To become fully registered with the Teaching Council in Ireland, graduates must complete 300 hours of teaching practice within three years, which is difficult to do if relying on irregular substitution work. This makes permanent positions on offer in the UK particularly attractive, according to Louise Ryan, co-director of the Social Policy Research Centre at Middlesex University. She is researching the experiences of young Irish teachers in Britain.

“There are so many full-time jobs available [in the UK] that they can get one immediately after graduating and have their full qualification within the year.”

A significant number of Ryan’s research participants came to the UK to do their postgraduate teaching qualification because they couldn’t secure a place in an Irish college. In the last three years, 1,457 Irish people have been accepted on postgraduate teacher-training programmes in UK institutions.

The salary for newly qualified teachers (NQTs) in the UK starts at £21,588 a year, or £27,000 in inner London. They work under the supervision of a mentor within the school, with regular feedback and support sessions. Once the NQT year is complete, salaries increase to up to £36,000 depending on the subject they teach and the location of the school.

Almost 100 young Irish teachers have participated in Ryan’s study so far, the majority of whom say they have been welcomed in the schools in which they have worked.

“They feel Irish teachers are very well regarded. And all have said it was relatively easy to get a job. Most got an offer after their first or second interview,” says Ryan.

“The positive thing they all talk about is how structured and organised the system is here. There are more promotion opportunities too, because the schools are so big and there’s a lot of different grades for teachers, especially at secondary level.”

But most respondents said they feel they have to work harder in the UK than they would in an Irish school. “Teachers here are expected to be in school before 8am and would often stay until six in the evening, but it is perceived that teachers in Ireland have shorter hours and longer holidays,” she says.

“There’s a huge amount of bureaucracy and paperwork to deal with here. The inspection system is very rigorous and schools are under enormous scrutiny, and every pupil is assessed from the age of seven. They feel that in Ireland teachers have a lot more autonomy about what they teach and how they teach it.”

Recruitment process
Claire Birch, who worked as an art teacher in east London for three years before taking up the position of recruitment manager with the Cork-based agency Uteach, says there is a preconception among some Irish teaching students that the only schools looking for staff in the UK are “very challenging ones in deprived areas, but that is a complete myth”.

The agency has already secured jobs for more than 90 Irish teachers in English schools for this coming September.

“The biggest portion are comprehensive schools. But on our books at the moment we have private fee-paying schools, academies, free schools, and Catholic and Protestant schools,” she says.

Engage Education and Uteach are just two of at least five recruitment agencies now targeting young Irish teaching graduates for positions in under-staffed English schools.

According to Jerry Cronin, an education careers advisor in the University of Limerick, there is an increasing awareness among UK recruiters that there’s a good pool of candidates here in Ireland to fill vacant teaching posts in England.

“There is a strong presence from these agencies at the education careers fairs we hold every March for students. The UK has a strong pull factor for the students too, because they have a much better chance of securing a permanent position there than they do in Ireland.”

Of the 270 teachers who qualified from undergraduate programmes in UL in 2011, 11 per cent were employed outside Ireland a year later, the majority in the UK. About 7 per cent of the 150 who completed postgraduate teaching programmes in the same year were also employed overseas.

Some of these recruiters have dedicated offices in Ireland, while others are regular exhibitors at education career fairs and teacher training college information days around Ireland.

The service offered differs between agencies. But travel and accommodation expenses to and from interviews are usually covered, paid for by the school. Some provide training sessions to prepare teachers for differences in the curriculum and classroom culture in the UK before they go, while others offer relocation advice and assistance with finding a place to live, opening a bank account and setting up utility bills once they land.

However, it is not only young graduates who are being brought over to work in England by these agencies. John Carr, head of resourcing in Engage Education’s new Dublin office, says they are also seeing an increase in the number of older teachers taking a career break to work in British schools.

“It is very tough in Irish schools at the moment. There is a lot of discontent with pay cuts and conditions,” he says. “People seem more open to taking a career break to broaden their experience within their field. They can bring back what they have learned from the UK system and the teaching hours they build up over there are transferable.”

But many of the teachers who have participated in Ryan’s study are not optimistic about their chances of finding work back in Ireland in the near future, despite a common desire to move back home in the long term.

“Some are still actively looking for jobs in Ireland. And some are feeling quite homesick and are prepared to go back home even if it means giving up the full-time work for substitution or maternity cover,” she says. “But for the rest, going back to subbing in Ireland would make no sense at all. They came over for a year, which has turned into two. And the advantages of being here have begun to outweigh the disadvantages.”

Unlike older generations of Irish in the UK, whom Ryan has researched in previous studies, these young teachers are “incredibly mobile” and willing to follow the work, she says.

“One teacher I interviewed recently is heading to Abu Dhabi next year. And many others said they would consider going further afield, to Australia, New Zealand or the US. The UK may not be the end of their journey. The English-speaking world is their oyster.”

Louise Ryan is still looking for more Irish teachers working in Britain to take part in her study. To find out more, or to fill out a short questionnaire, see Calling all Irish teachers in Britain.

Una O’Neill, a 23-year-old from Co Galway, completed her Bachelor of Education at St Angela’s College in Sligo in 2012. She works as a GCSE home economics teacher at a school in Essex

“Recruitment agencies came to the college to talk to us about jobs in the UK in our final year. And I remember saying to my friend I would never move to England. She laughed and said she felt the same.

“Around exam time, I started looking up jobs in Ireland but there were none advertised. I decided to apply for one of the UK jobs, just to see what would happen. Both agencies I applied to got back to me with dates for interviews and offered to pay to fly me over, so I decided to go for the experience.

“I was offered a job on the day of the first interview. I panicked thinking I might never be offered another job again, so I accepted it and had to move to England the following week.

“I have a full year’s experience working in one school now . . . but it is a very different system over here. The curriculum here focuses on food, but in Ireland, home economics is about so much more than that.

“I am in a state school in a low socioeconomic area, which seems to be common for a lot of the Irish teachers moving over.

“I really miss home. There are five Irish teachers in my school and about 30 working in other schools in the area who all hang around together.

“Most have been here two or three years, sometimes five, but all say they only planned to stay a year. There’s no work to go home to and they have begun to earn a little more and are becoming settled here. I told myself that wouldn’t happen to me, but here I still am.

“I have looked into the likes of Dubai, where teachers are also in high demand and the salary is better and tax free. I’ve also considered Australia or New Zealand. At the moment, I feel too close to home, yet too far away.”

Ruth Foley, a 25-year-old from Waterford, completed her HDip in Education at Hibernia College last year. She works as a year four teacher in a primary boarding school in west London.

“I arrived in the UK with a friend four days after my last exam. We both came over for a month to do some supply work and have a bit of an adventure. There are so many people coming out of teacher training colleges competing for jobs that you need to do something to stand out, so we thought it would be a good way to get some teaching experience.

“I wasn’t expecting to be here for longer than the month, but I really loved it and decided to come back in September. I thought I would be doing more supply work, but I ended up getting my own class, which was great.

“I live in Brixton but the school I teach in is in west London near Acton. It is a huge boarding school, and I am one of three year four teachers. There’s great potential for career progression here because the schools are so much bigger. You can become a year leader, or a coordinator for a particular subject.

“I’m here with my boyfriend and he’s got a good job too. We would both like to move back home eventually, but we really like it here and are in no rush to go home.”

This article was amended on June 15th to correct a factual error.