Teaching initiative aims to diversify ‘white, middle-class’ profession

Maynooth University programme to support migrants, Travellers and disadvantaged students

Hundreds of people from marginalised backgrounds will be supported to join a teaching profession which has been criticised for being too “white, female and middle class” under a series of new access programmes.

Maynooth University will on Wednesday launch a new initiative to support more than 100 students – such as migrants, Travellers and students from poor backgrounds – to become teachers.

Other universities and colleges are also unveiling programmes which seek to boost numbers from under-represented groups at both primary and secondary level.

While the Irish classroom has become much more diverse over the past decade or so, with one in 10 students from non-Irish backgrounds, research shows this has not been reflected among the teaching profession.


At primary level, for instance, research indicates that 92 per cent of teachers are white, Irish and middle-class.

‘Turn to teaching’

Maynooth University’s “turn to teaching” programme seeks to address barriers faced by marginalised students in entering teaching, such as those from the Traveller community, migrants, mature students, lone parents and students from disadvantaged schools.

The programme is made up of three educational interventions designed to support disadvantaged students, including modules that support Irish language competency, teaching aspirations, and knowledge of Ireland’s complex higher education system.

They will be delivered through a combination of foundation courses, academic and personal supports and mentoring programmes.

Irish society can only benefit through having more diversity in the classroom

Maynooth University lecturer and former access student, Dr Katriona O’Sullivan, said that the programme, along with others, could help “change the face of the Irish classroom”.

“While [current teachers] do a great job, we must ensure that our schools reflect the diverse nature of Irish society.

“Young people from Deis schools, or communities, where teaching is not considered an option, need to see people like them in their classroom. They need to be able to relate to their teachers, to think ‘if he can do it then so can I’,” she said.

She said the programme will help ensure more students from Tallaght, Ballymun, the Travelling community and migrant community will be “taking up the chalk and feeling that they too can teach the children of tomorrow.”

The programme is funded through a €750,000 award from the Higher Education Authority, with an additional €600,000 from Maynooth University.

Preparing disadvantaged students

Maynooth University president, Prof Philip Nolan, said the college was delighted to be able to assist in preparing disadvantaged students to reach students like themselves through the power of education.

“Irish society can only benefit through having more diversity in the classroom, as teachers from different backgrounds send a clear message to young people that no one’s future is defined by the barriers they face when they are young,” he said.

The Government has allocated almost €2.5 million for a range of new projects – including at Maynooth – to attract a diverse range of young teachers.

Senator Lynn Ruane, who was president of Trinity College Dublin’s students’ union and a former access student, said the Maynooth programme was “an amazing opportunity” to make teaching more representative of both the classroom and society.

“You cannot be what you cannot see, so to have teachers from various classes, races and ethnicities, and teachers living with a disability, will have a massive impact on improving the numbers of kids going on to third level education,” she said.

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent