Why are there so few migrant teachers in Ireland?

One in ten students is from a minority ethnic background, but this diversity is not reflected in the teaching profession

 Josna Joy, a teacher at North Wicklow Educates Together secondary school in Bray, Co Wicklow. “The principal was so kind and open to giving migrants a chance. I’m so glad that I kept trying and didn’t give up.” Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Josna Joy, a teacher at North Wicklow Educates Together secondary school in Bray, Co Wicklow. “The principal was so kind and open to giving migrants a chance. I’m so glad that I kept trying and didn’t give up.” Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

In all the misery that the pandemic heaped onto schools, post-primary principals have been struggling to recruit the right teachers for the right roles.

Despite this, migrant teachers say they have had issues securing jobs in Irish schools and so, this year, there’s been a big focus on removing red tape for out-of-State teachers. But is it moving fast enough to address the supply issues?

Latest available figures show about one in ten students is from a minority ethnic background, but this diversity is not reflected in the teaching profession, where about one per cent of primary teachers and two per cent of post-primary teachers are not from white Irish backgrounds.

Tomás Ó Rúairc, Director of The Teaching Council, says that it is important for schools to have a more diverse teaching staff.

“Children from diverse backgrounds [should] see themselves reflected in the teaching profession. A diverse profession offers a range of role models. Equal access to the profession must be assured as a matter of equity and this also widens the pool of candidates for teaching. We receive approximately 650 applications annually from teachers who qualify abroad.”

Dr Garret Campbell is project manager of the Migrant Teacher Project (MTP) in the Marino Institute of Education, one of the main training colleges for primary teachers.

Working closely with the MTP founder, Dr Rory McDaid, who carried out much of the initial research on recruitment and retention of migrant teachers, the project helps primary and post-primary teachers who were educated outside of Ireland to secure work here.

“Migrant teachers are teachers who qualified in their own country and they may be from Europe or outside of Europe,” says Campbell.

“Our role is to help them navigate the requirements for teaching in Ireland and to provide support through a number of dedicated programmes.”

There are several main barriers facing migrant teachers who want to work here.

Registration

“Teaching in Ireland is a profession regulated by the Teaching Council,” says Campbell.

“The whole area of teacher induction has changed dramatically in recent years. Occasionally, there can even be Irish teachers who have done online teacher training elsewhere, but there is a strict set of requirements and standards including what type of education primary and post-primary teachers receive, as happens in other countries too.”

Campbell says the Teaching Council can and should have professional standards. Some prospective teachers, however, may be unfamiliar with certain terminology, so the MTP is building a portal to help migrants understand exactly what documents and information they need to register.

“We are saying that applicants may need to spend some time pulling together the relevant documentation,” says Campbell. “Once they have done that, the process is relatively straightforward, but there can be problems if, for instance, the institution in which they qualified has closed down or is not functioning.”

One requirement at primary level is for all teachers, regardless of where they trained, to be able to teach through Irish.

“For migrant teachers who did not train in Ireland, this is doable, but it takes about three years and they need to do an exam at the end of it,” says Campbell. “If they work on basic Irish and spend time at the Gaeltacht, they can pass, and there are a handful who are doing this every year.”

Religion and history

Migrants are more likely to opt for post-primary teaching because the registration process is easier and there are less onerous shortfalls.

One of the courses run by the MTP brings aspirant teachers up to speed on the history of Irish education and, at primary level at least, how it is dominated by religious – primarily Catholic – school patrons.

Teachers need a Catholic Certificate in Religious Education to teach in almost 90 per cent of schools or a Church of Ireland Certificate for just under six per cent of schools. This means that, unless migrant teachers are Catholic or Protestant – or willing to pretend to be – they are excluded from teaching at primary level.

Campbell says that the majority of migrant teachers look to work at second-level, but whether this is because many face a religious barrier to working in State-funded schools, is unknown.

Diversity

So what are the solutions?

The Teaching Council consults and liaises regularly with the Migrant Teacher Project,” says Ó Rúairc.

“This includes annual seminars and monthly meetings for individual queries. This is a very open channel of engagement which will continue to be enhanced in the months and years ahead.

“We also are collaborating closely with the Department of Education in the Teaching Transforms promotion campaign. The current phase of this campaign has seen a particular focus on diversity in the profession. We have accredited postgraduate programmes of initial teacher education with blended modes of delivery.”

The MTP runs a bridging project to support migrant teachers and give them a chance to reflect on the Irish school system, engage with representatives of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment and meet with school principals.

A new school network has brought together about three dozen schools who are willing to give migrant teachers a shot, and another event is being planned for September.

Covid-19 heightened the teacher supply crisis. Because of this, the Teaching Council has decided that, on an exceptional and time-bound basis, teachers who have qualified abroad can complete their induction in Ireland, if they apply no later than October 29, 2021.

CASE STUDY

‘I tried to get experience, but got nowhere’

Josna Joy, maths and business teacher in North Wicklow Educate Together Secondary School

“In 2009, I came to Ireland from Kerala in India, where I had completed a masters degree in mathematics.

“I really wanted to go outside India so I could get more experience, so I enrolled in Ireland as an accounting student. After completing this, I did a business studies course and got married here to a man from India.

“In 2012, I applied to the Teaching Council as a maths teacher, with about four years experience teaching experience from India. My plan had always been to teach, and I was now qualified to teach business and maths.

“It was a real challenge to get all the documents I needed from India, and it took me over six months to register. I got my conditional registration, but struggled to get 55 hours of supervised teaching practice.

“Then I had to pass an exam on the history of Irish education and how the system here works. I tried to get experience but got nowhere. I was even prepared to do voluntary work so I could get the experience.

“I got so upset at one point and wondered whether it was worth spending €65 every year on Teaching Council registration. I spoke with my friends and couldn’t find any migrant teachers working here. I wanted to work, so I took an accounting job for a year, but I persisted.

“There was no help until, in 2019, I joined Marino Institute of Education’s Migrant Teacher Programme. This included talks about the syllabus, curriculum and how the Irish system works. They said they wanted more migrant teachers and gave us support and hope. It was so great to meet other migrant teachers, and we did mock interviews so we could understand what school principals want.

“Still, it was hard to get experience, but the MTP helped and, eventually, I got the job in Bray. My colleagues and I can share our learning and perspectives as to how business and maths work in India, which enhances learning. The principal was so kind and open to giving migrants a chance. I’m so glad that I kept trying and didn’t give up.”