Primary-school teachers may be converted for second-level roles

Supply crisis solution suggested as pupils in post-primary set to reach record highs

Ireland’s secondary school population is projected to rise until 2024. Photograph: iStock

Ireland’s secondary school population is projected to rise until 2024. Photograph: iStock

 

Plans to convert hundreds of primary school teachers to second-level teachers are being explored by the Department of Education as part of a series of measures to ease a teacher supply “crisis”.

A growing number of secondary schools report acute problems finding qualified teachers for key subjects such as Irish, European languages, physics and chemistry.

The problem may grow worse given that enrolments at second level are projected to rise until 2024, reaching a record 400,000 pupils for the first time.

Pupil numbers at primary level, by contrast, are projected to gradually fall over the coming years, potentially leaving hundreds of teachers surplus to requirements.

A Department of Education steering group on teacher supply has been examining a range of potential measures to ease these pressures.

A programme to convert primary teachers to secondary teachers – in light of demographic changes over the coming years – is being examined. Other potential measures include sharing teachers across schools in certain subject areas; exploring the potential to train native speakers as language teachers and financial incentives to take up teacher training programmes, which can cost €10,000-15,000.

Austerity era

Teachers’ unions insist the teacher supply “crisis” is the result of austerity era pay rates for teachers hired after 2011.

However, the department has only accepted that there are “pinch points” in certain areas, such as key subjects and substitute cover at primary level.

Steering group members – which include officials from the department, the Teaching Council, nominees of the higher education sector and the school management bodies – have identified “cost of living” challenges as a significant issue for young teachers.

In addition, they have focused on the “casualisation” of the profession, with many working part-time hours for long periods.

A spokesman for the department said proposals such as converting primary teachers to secondary teachers were being considered as part of the steering group’s work.

He said the group was established earlier this year to develop a programme of actions on teacher supply and oversee its implementation.

The spokesman said that, in the meantime, more new teachers were being hired than at any other time in the history of the State.