Hundreds of extra teacher-training places are to be provided this year amid concerns of a “crisis” in the supply of teachers for key subjects.
Minister for Education Richard Bruton has asked universities to increase the capacity of undergraduate and postgraduate courses for teaching at second level, especially in subjects such Irish, science, maths and languages.
Many secondary schools have warned of a crisis in the supply of teachers for these subjects and say the quality of students’ education is at risk.
While numbers graduating from secondary-teacher education courses have remained relatively steady in recent years, the number of students entering the system is increasing and will continue to do so until 2025.
Mr Bruton said he was responding to this growth by increasing the number of places on postprimary-teacher education programmes at both undergraduate and postgraduate level.
Universities will increase the capacity on undergraduate teacher-education programmes by an estimated 280 places in 2018.
This includes an increase in the priority areas of Stem (science and maths), Irish and foreign languages of more than 100 places. This represents a 40 per cent increase over last year.
This may lead to a reduction in points for some teacher-training courses this year.
At postgraduate level, universities will increase the capacity on postgraduate programmes by more than 100 places in the priority areas of Stem, Irish and foreign languages.
In a bid to fill these numbers, universities and the postgraduate applications centre have extended the closing date for applications for entry to certain postgraduate teacher-education programmes to Friday, April 13th.
The relevant subjects for applicants are maths, physics, chemistry, French, German, Spanish and Italian.
The Government has ambitious plans to boost education in the area of Stem and foreign languages, despite rising concerns over the supply of qualified teachers.
School managers and teachers’ unions, however, have warned that key teaching posts in these areas are being filled by unqualified teachers.
Mr Bruton said the Government was now providing additional places to ensure the system can respond more readily to our national priorities and the needs of schools.
“I have previously announced some measures to support schools in managing these issues, including expanding the number of days a teacher can work while on a career break,” he said.
“Today, I am taking further action by expanding the number of places on teacher-education programmes with a heavy emphasis on certain subject areas at post primary level, to ensure that schools can get the right mix of subject teachers.”
University sources are sceptical over the impact of the move and say it may be difficult to fill teacher-training places for Stem and foreign languages, especially for postgraduate courses.
They say there is major competition for science and language graduates and the cost of a two-year professional master’s of education – between €10,000 and €15,000 – is turning many students off.
Mr Bruton, however, said teaching remained a “fantastic” profession for young people considering their options with a “starting salary for a teacher straight out of college of nearly €36,000, increasing to €37,600 from October 2020”.
Latest CAO figures show a small increase in the number of students applying to study primary education and secondary education.
Similarly, provisional postgraduate figures indicate there has been an increase in applications this year, reversing a downward trend since 2011.