Ask Brian: ‘My teacher isn’t qualified. Should I go to a grind school?’

A shortage of qualified teachers in key subjects is a real problem across many schools

I’m in my Leaving Cert year and am worried that I won’t get the 550 CAO points I need for the maths degree I want to study. I think I am able – but my maths and biology teachers don’t even hold qualifications for the subjects they are delivering. My parents have offered to pay for me to move to Galway or Dublin, to attend a grind school for the year. What would you advise?

Your situation is not unique. There are shortages of qualified teachers in Stem (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects , along with Irish and home economics. Much of this is down to the fact that there are so many well-paid job opportunities in these areas. Many simply aren’t attracted to the idea of spending two years training as a second-level teacher with fees of up to €12,000.

In the current year, the number of applicants for post-graduate teacher training has dropped by 50 per cent. Furthermore, a large proportion of them hold degrees in English and history and other liberal arts subjects.

Ironically, many completing post-graduate masters in education (PME) training may not find full-time teaching employment after investing another two years in their education, because their specific subjects are not in demand in schools. Yet, over the two years of the PME, there are only three graduates of physics degrees currently in training throughout the entire country.

I cannot blame young people with good Stem degrees opting to take up paid employment at salaries of €35,000 per year, rather than spend two further years in college given the expense involved.

Teacher supply

Sadly, there are no plans in place to rectify this situation. The Teaching Council ensures those who are registered to teach are fully qualified in their subjects.

The teacher training faculties in our universities give an excellent pedagogical education to those who enter their teacher training programmes, but don’t select on the basis of managing teacher supply.

The inspectorate in the Department of Education does an excellent job at overseeing the professional competency of those teachers employed in schools, but plays no role in managing supply. The problem of teacher supply is a complex one for which there is no simple solution, and nobody seems to want to take responsibility for addressing it.

In your specific case, I would caution against leaving your school, peer group, friends and family home to go and live and study in a grind school for a year.

On the other hand, if your school cannot find qualified teachers in some subjects that you are banking on for high grades, you may be forced to sacrifice all of the above to attain entry to the maths degree programme you desire.