Ask Brian: My daughter’s on a career break from teaching. Should she return home?

Teaching posts may become harder to secure in future as numbers are projected to fall

There will always be substitute work available as a primary school teacher, given the need to cover maternity leaves, normal sickness and career breaks. Photograph: iStock

There will always be substitute work available as a primary school teacher, given the need to cover maternity leaves, normal sickness and career breaks. Photograph: iStock

 

Question: My daughter is a primary teacher who’s on the second year of a career break. She’s teaching in the United Arab Emirates, while her fiance is also based there. They’re saving money for a house. Her request to extend her career break by another year has been turned down. What are the consequences if she gives up her position at home?

Answer: All things being equal, it would seem logical for your daughter and her fiance to remain there for several years to enable them to save up to buy a home.

With the current shortage of substitute teachers in our primary and in certain subject areas at postprimary school systems, there would seem to be little downside to letting her current teaching post lapse.

However, there is a major change on the horizon for our primary school system, resulting from Ireland’s demographic profile.

Our primary school system has coped well over the past decade in educating record numbers thanks to a baby boom.

By any measure, it has been an impressive achievement on the part of policymakers in the Department of Education, school management and teachers throughout the country.

Population bulge

That population bulge has now reached its peak and over the next 10 years the challenge of providing enough teachers and schools will ease at primary and increase at second level.

The Irish National Teachers Organisation (INTO) is very aware of the problems this will give rise to in accommodating the normal flow of graduates out of our primary school undergraduate and postgraduate teaching programmes into full-time teaching posts.

This is one reason why they have been successfully lobbying the Minister for Education to reduce the pupil-teacher ratio at primary level. The political reality in the world of Irish education is that, unlike their colleagues at second and third level, the INTO is probably the strongest and most effective lobby group of all.

The danger, therefore, in your daughter relinquishing her current permanent position and continuing to teach abroad is that when she returns to Ireland in a few years’ time, the opportunity to secure a new full-time post may have become more difficult.

Substitute work

Given the relative youth and mostly female composition of our teaching workforce, there will always be substitute work available as a primary school teacher, given the need to cover maternity leaves, normal sickness and career breaks. In time, your daughter, if she decides to let go of her current teaching contract, will secure a new one. But, it might take some years to do so, given the pattern of lower birth rates that Ireland is experiencing.

Given the recent directive from the Minister, Richard Bruton, to schools on the criteria to be applied when considering granting or extend career breaks to teachers, your daughter’s dilemma will be shared by thousands of other young Irish teachers abroad in the weeks and months ahead.