Ask Brian: ‘I’m training to be a teacher, but can’t secure a work placement’

Despite acute staff shortages in key subjects, many schools say they cannot offer teaching placements for students

Many trainee teachers are struggling to find work placements in schools. Photo: iStock

Many trainee teachers are struggling to find work placements in schools. Photo: iStock


Question: I secured an offer of a place on a post-grad teaching course recently and hope to qualify as a maths and physics teacher. Given the “crisis” in teacher supply, I assumed I would have no difficulty securing a teaching placement, which is a requirement of my course. What’s going on?

Answer: You are correct: there is an acute shortage of qualified teachers across a range of subject areas in our schools. Stem subjects – such as science and maths – are a particular area of concern.

The Department of Education says it is currently giving top priority to this matter and is considering many of the causes of teachers’ shortages in a wide range of subject areas.

The willingness of schools to include initial teacher education as a normal part of day-to-day school activity is crucial to solving the problem of teacher supply.

I am aware that as part of the effort to address this issue that, the department has approached all third level colleges who offer initial teacher education requesting that they increase the number of places on offer across their programmes.

It is my understanding that colleges have recently responded, outlining the extreme difficulty they are currently experiencing in securing placement for trainee teachers across all their primary and post primary programmes.

The colleges are seeking to secure placements for thousands of undergraduate second level trainee teaching students, while you along with hundreds of other aspiring post-grad students are attempting to secure required placements hours to start your programme in September.

Many schools faced with this deluge of requests simply decide not to offer any placements to trainee teachers, or to confine their offers to past pupils.

Others will only consider offering a placement if they have a gap in their timetable, which they will fill with a trainee teacher where the trainee is expected to deliver the same quality of teaching as a fully-qualified teacher.

Best practice should require that student teachers would be provided with the opportunity to observe experienced and competent teachers at work. Many schools do not have the cohort of suitably-qualified teachers willing to act as mentors to trainee teachers, which is a basic requirement for any placement.

There are a few suggestions currently being proposed by higher education institutions seeking to expand teacher training programmes which include:

For example, all schools could automatically be deemed to positively engage with initial teacher education programmes, unless they opted out for a specific reason. Schools could then develop a policy of structured involvement and appoint a liaison person to implement their programme of involvement.

Another option is to reference support for placement in school inspection reports, so that schools who provide quality initial teacher education support are recognised for doing so.

We cannot expand teacher-training to resolve our supply problem without a change of culture within schools, moving from seeing facilitating teacher trainees as an optional extra, to being part of core activity.