Minister for Education Joe McHugh has pledged to tackle barriers preventing emigrant teachers returning home but has warned he does not have “any quick-fix ideas”.
Mr McHugh is due to visit the United Arab Emirates this week to host a series of town hall-style meetings with teachers. The initiative is part of a drive to make it easier for them to return to Ireland.
School management bodies say a shortage of teachers is causing a “crisis” due to a lack of substitute cover at primary level and qualified teachers in key subjects at second level.
Speaking in advance of his visit, Mr McHugh said he wants to identify practical steps that could make it easier for teachers to return home.
I don't have any quick-fix ideas around it . . . but those teachers bring experience, talent, insight and new perspectives
A key area he says he will examine is providing a mechanism to recognise teachers’ middle-management experience in schools abroad. Many emigrant teachers express frustration that, despite serving as heads of department, this experience is often not recognised here.
“We have to look at the progression of teachers, what new skills, what experience they build up in terms of responsibility,” said Mr McHugh. “We have to open up a wider conversation over the roles of responsibility teachers have abroad and how we incorporate that into the system when they return home. I don’t have any quick-fix ideas around it . . . but those teachers bring experience, talent, insight and new perspectives.”
Among the obstacles regularly cited by emigrant teachers include difficulties securing full-time posts at home, red-tape involving the Teaching Council as well as the cost of living.
Mr McHugh said a representative from the council will join him for the visit to take on board any ideas for streamlining registration or other issues. He said a new online portal, which opened last week, is an example of the kind of practical steps that would assist emigrant teachers.
The portal – which operates under the title turasabhaile.com or "journey home" – will give teachers the opportunity to register their contact details, CVs, preferred employment location and specialist subjects.
Mr McHugh, a former teacher who spent a year teaching in the UAE in the mid-1990s, said the visit also aimed to pay tribute to the contribution of Irish teachers abroad. He said teachers were magnificent ambassadors for the State and were boosting the country’s reputation wherever they go.
There are an estimated 2,000 Irish-qualified teachers based in the UAE and hundreds have signed up for three meetings with the Minister in Abu Dhabi, El Ain and Dubai.
When asked if the Government would consider additional pay for teachers based in the greater Dublin area – which faces some of the most acute shortages – Mr McHugh replied that the cost of living was also an issue for other professions.
He is primarily concerned with looking at the kind of practical steps that can be taken in the short to medium term.