Government to tackle teacher shortages in key subjects

Moves may include paying the cost of a teaching qualification for graduates

Minister for Education  Richard Bruton has said the Government will move next year to ensure there are enough teachers in key school subjects. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Minister for Education Richard Bruton has said the Government will move next year to ensure there are enough teachers in key school subjects. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

The Government will move next year to ensure there are enough teachers in key school subjects earmarked as crucial for future job growth, Minister for Education Richard Bruton has said.

This could include new schemes where the State could pay some, if not all, of the cost of a teaching qualification for people who already have degrees in areas such as physics.

Mr Bruton has identified the so-called Stem – science, technology, engineering and maths – subjects, among others, in new education strategies.

However, many secondary schools are reporting difficulties finding teachers in these subject areas, as well as in Irish, home economics, physics and European languages.

In an interview with The Irish Times, Mr Bruton said about 6,300 additional teachers had been hired since he took over as Minister for Education in May 2016.

He said this showed “there is no shortage” of teachers, adding: “It is just that we have very rapidly expanding demand because we are meeting demographic needs. We are restoring resource teachers, we are restoring guidance counsellors.”

‘Pinch points’

Despite this, the Dublin Bay North TD acknowledged there were “pinch points emerging” with certain subjects. He said goals were being set for the take-up of Stem and foreign language subjects.

“We recognise there are teacher-supply implications of that and we are going to change the model of teacher supply.”

A number of ways of tackling the problem are open to the Government, Mr Bruton said. One is to give teacher training colleges quotas of teachers needed in a number of subjects.

“One thing is to look at the intake and shape it,” he said. “We would say to the colleges: we will fund 1,000 teachers being recruited but we want to see a quota of X in physics, Y in whatever. So that’s one thing we can do.”

Another method would be to offer incentives to those coming out of college with applicable qualifications and attempt to incentivise them to become teachers by, for example, paying the fees for the masters in teaching course.

“The other thing is we can look at the physics and the graduates coming out from college who are doing these things, a small proportion of whom go into teaching and we can make incentives for them, to attract a proportion of them in,” Mr Bruton said.

Career change

“So, €7,000 a year to do a masters and it is a two-year masters, so €14,000. So that would be another route, you’d have a way of coming into teaching. Either for new graduates, who are just coming out of college, or people who have worked in another role. You have a physics degree, you’ve worked in industry for a good few years and you may want to have a career change.”

Another measure could be upskilling existing teachers – such as those, for example, who have a degree that included physics but are only teaching maths – to take on new roles.

Mr Bruton has come under some political pressure on the issue. Fianna Fáil education spokesman Thomas Byrne has repeatedly raised the matter. “We need to address this and we will address this in 2018,” Mr Bruton said. “We are looking at all the strands on what we could do and we aim to start looking at the initiatives next year.”