Hundreds of free upskilling courses to tackle teacher supply ‘crisis’

Move aims to boost numbers of qualified teachers in maths, physics and Spanish

Minister for Education Norma Foley: ‘I would urge strongly any registered post-primary teacher with a potential interest in these subject areas to look into these programmes and assess their options further with the relevant higher education institutions.’ Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill / The Irish Times

Minister for Education Norma Foley: ‘I would urge strongly any registered post-primary teacher with a potential interest in these subject areas to look into these programmes and assess their options further with the relevant higher education institutions.’ Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill / The Irish Times

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Hundreds of secondary school teachers will be able to apply for free third-level upskilling courses which will qualify them to teach maths, physics and Spanish.

The move is aimed at tackling what school managers and teachers’ unions say is a growing teacher supply “crisis” in key subjects at post-primary level.

Many schools say they are struggling to find teachers qualified to teach in science and languages and are forced to rely on “out of field” teachers to deliver them.

Three free programmes will be available, including a professional diploma for teaching physics (DCU, UL and NUI Galway), a higher diploma in Spanish for teaching (UCC) and a professional diploma in mathematics for teaching (UL, NUI Galway, DCU, TU Dublin, CIT, LYIT and WIT).

In total, about 160 places will be allocated in each intake across the three programmes.

The programmes will run over two years on a part-time basis and will be delivered in a flexible way to allow as many teachers in partial or full employment and to take part.

These courses will be open to registered second-level teachers irrespective of their employment status.

However, teachers cannot opt to upskill in the subject for which they are already registered.

Other than a deposit, which will be refundable to the participating teacher on completion of the programme, places will be provided free of charge and prioritised for teachers who are unemployed, not in full employment, and those teaching the subject “out of field”.

Funding is being made available to support two intakes of students, commencing in January 2021 with a second intake in January 2022.

The programmes have been designed so participation should not impact on class contact time for currently serving teachers.

For those teachers employed or considering seeking employment in Irish-medium schools, the maths and physics upskilling programmes will also be provided through Irish.

The application process is due to open shortly and applications can be made directly to the relevant higher education institution.

Each programme will enable participants to meet the Teaching Council’s curricular subject requirements in each subject,

Minister for Education Norma Foley and Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris jointly announced the programmes on Wednesday.

Ms Foley said secondary schools have highlighted teacher recruitment challenges in subject areas, including Stem and modern foreign languages.

“This is an exciting opportunity for teachers to upskill in a flexible way with no fee cost, to increase their own opportunities for employment whilst addressing recruitment challenges in these subject areas,” she said.

“I would urge strongly any registered post-primary teacher with a potential interest in these subject areas to look into these programmes and assess their options further with the relevant higher education institutions.”

Mr Harris thanked higher education institutions for coming forward with innovative approaches to provide upskilling opportunities for teachers through these programmes.

“The recommended proposals are of the highest quality and I am confident that participants will, over the two years of the programme, be empowered to become effective and enthusiastic teachers of these subjects,” he said.

The application processes will open shortly and applications should be made directly to the individual higher education institution.

Further information on the programmes is available on the institutions’ websites.

In response to the announcement, the Teachers’ Union of Ireland said the programmes were a clear acknowledgment of the ongoing “teacher recruitment and retention crisis that is blighting the profession”.

TUI general secretary Michael Gillespie: “This crisis will continue until pay discrimination, which sees those employed after 1st January 2011 earning less than their colleagues, is eliminated. Not only has the problem not gone away, but its hugely corrosive and damaging effects on the education system continue.”

He said teachers in these and other subjects have transferable skills that in many cases have seen them leave the profession for better-paid private sector jobs.