Minister to meet teachers in UAE in bid to encourage them home
Staff shortage is ‘greatest challenge’ facing schools, Killarney conference hears
Minister for Education Joe McHugh: ‘I’ll also organise townhall meetings to meet with them and see what we can do.’ File photograph: Alan Betson
Minister for Education Joe McHugh is to host a series of townhall-style meetings with Irish teachers based in the United Arab Emirates this summer in a bid to convince many to return home.
Schools say they are facing a “crisis” in the supply of teachers at both primary and second level.
Speaking to reporters, Mr McHugh said he has asked the Irish Embassy in Abu Dhabi to survey teachers based in the region to get a better sense of why they have emigrated and help identify what barriers they face to returning home.
He is due to visit the area this summer and host a series of meetings with teachers across the country.
“I don’t want to arrive to UAE from a plane just for the sake of a conversation and then come home. So, I’m doing preliminary work and engaging with the embassy in UAE . . . I’ll also organise townhall meetings to meet with them [teachers] and see what we can do.”
Mr McHugh was speaking prior to the annual conference in Killarney of the school management body which represents religious voluntary secondary schools.
Deirdre Mathews, president of the Association of Management of Catholic Secondary Schools and Joint Managerial Body, said teacher supply was the single biggest problem facing the sector.
“Filling the gaps on a timetable that arise through teacher absences while on approved leave has been the greatest challenge facing schools this year,” she told the Minister, in her address.
“It is important that you understand that this crisis now affects all subject areas during the school year and even during the summer recruitment season, schools experience real difficulties in filling viable posts in key subject areas,” she said.
“Solving this crisis requires both collaboration and leadership. Minister, we ask you to leave no stone unturned to minimise the impact of short-term absences.”
Ms Mathews said creative solutions, such as moving oral exams to non-tuition time – such as during the Easter holidays – could ease the pressure on secondary schools.
She also said principals felt “overwhelmed” by the pace, scope and scale of change and that school leaders had breathed a “sigh of relief” when the Minister announced plans to slow down reforms.
Ms Mathews said initiatives such as junior cycle reforms needed time to be embedded and cautioned that any changes to the Leaving Cert would require extensive consultation.
Underfunding of schools remains an ongoing issue, she added, with investment still below 2007 levels.
This, she said, meant schools were forced to raise money from parents and the wider community.
“Schools are educational, not fundraising, enterprises. Every principal here knows the energy and time it takes to raise 30 per cent of their annual expenditure in the community, energy that would be better served leading learning and teaching,” she said.
She called for a full restoration of school capitation levels and for the elimination of a salary grant deduction from the capitation payable to voluntary secondary schools.
This, she said, was the equivalent of more than €560 per teaching post.
“This inequity is now a moral and ethical issue,” Ms Mathews said.
“This deduction is not taken from any other school sector. This inequity is now a moral and ethical issue. Minister, it is now time, in the interest of equity, to address this once and for all.”