The majority of trainee primary school teachers are white, Irish and Catholic and do not reflect our diverse population, new research has found.
Dr Manuela Heinz and Dr Elaine Keane, from the school of education in NUI Galway, have carried out the first comprehensive and nationwide study in Ireland which explores the socio-demographic backgrounds of entrants to primary teacher education programmes.
According to the Central Statistics Office, 11.6 per cent of the population identify as non-Irish, while 82.2 per cent of the population identify as white Irish.
However, some 99 per cent of trainee teachers identified as white Irish and 100 per cent of them said English or Irish was their first language.
The research found trainee teachers claiming Irish nationality only are “significantly overrepresented”compared to the general population.
The top 10 non-Irish nationalities in the State in 2016 were people from Poland, the UK, Lithuania, Romania, Latvia, Brazil, Spain, Italy, France and Germany.
The research found Roman Catholics are over-represented (90 per cent) and non-religious individuals (5 per cent ) are underrepresented among trainee teachers compared with the general population in Ireland (78 per cent Roman Catholic and 10 per cent non-religious).
The study calls for further discussion of measures that can be taken to attract and recruit more individuals from minority groups into the teaching profession.
It said possible barriers preventing people from minority backgrounds from considering entering or, indeed, successfully progressing in teaching careers include financial issues such as programme fees, living costs, access to grants and other financial supports, and the religious (mostly Catholic) ethos of Irish schools.
Dr Heinz said it is important we take notice of the widening diversity gap and identify potential barriers for individuals from underrepresented groups.
“For many students who are refugees, have certain learning difficulties, or have come from abroad and did not speak English when they enrolled in school, the door to primary teaching is closed early as they can be granted an exemption from the otherwise obligatory Irish instruction at school, where Irish, English and Maths are essential subjects for applicants to primary teacher education programmes in Ireland, a barrier to non-Irish nationals who weren’t educated in Ireland,” said Dr Heinz.
Dr Heinz said the predominantly denominational and mostly Catholic Irish primary school and initial teacher education system may act as a further deterrent for people who do not share the religious beliefs and values of the majority of primary schools and colleges.
“We are hoping that this research will trigger more thinking about teacher demand and supply, and the characteristics and qualities we are looking for in teachers.”