Two-tier teaching: It’s time to close the gap

Young teachers should be properly rewarded for the vital role they play in helping students reach their potential

If Minister for Education Richard Bruton is to succeed in ensuring Ireland has the best education and training system in Europe within a decade, our young people must have access to top-quality teachers. Photograph:  Moya Nolan

If Minister for Education Richard Bruton is to succeed in ensuring Ireland has the best education and training system in Europe within a decade, our young people must have access to top-quality teachers. Photograph: Moya Nolan

a
 

Minister for Education Richard Bruton’s stated objective is to ensure we have the best education and training system in Europe within a decade. He also wants Ireland to be a European leader in science, technology, engineering and maths education. While the ambition is laudable, there are growing questions over how this can be delivered.

Teachers’ annual conferences this week heard of how reduced pay and low-hour contracts have left many new entrants struggling to make ends meet. Many new teachers recruited since 2011 are reliant on fragments of work and struggling to pay their rents, raise family or make ends meet. In some cases, young graduates are working part-time jobs to supplement very modest incomes. It is no surprise that many new entrant teachers are emigrating to countries where they can secure full-time hours on higher wages, while some say they are leaving the profession and moving into other careers.

A shortage of teachers in key areas at both primary and second level now threatens to undermine the quality of our education system. At post-primary level, in particular, difficulties finding qualified teachers in key areas such as science, maths and languages risk undermining subject choice for students.

If we are to achieve the Minister’s aims, our young people must have access to top-quality teachers. Ending two-tier pay gaps in teaching will not solve the problem of shortages – the issue is more complicated than that – but it is an important first step. At the very least, a pathway for pay equality should be produced soon, in line with demands from the three teachers’ unions this week.

Bruton has helped to narrow the bulk of the gap that exists between new entrants and their more experienced colleagues. However, it will soon be almost a decade since financial emergency measures were introduced. The longer pay inequality continues, the greater the impact it will have on teachers’ long-term earnings.

Teaching in Ireland has traditionally been seen as an attractive profession with status, good conditions and a solid career path. An international panel which reviewed teacher education in Ireland in 2012 found that “the academic standard of applicants (to teacher education courses) is among the highest, if not the highest in the world”. We cannot take this for granted given the competition for talent across other sectors.

Young teachers should be properly rewarded for the role they play in firing young minds and helping students reach their full potential. The best members of the profession do not just educate children: they build their confidence, provide important support and help develop crucial skills needed for their future careers. It is vitally important that teaching remains an attractive profession for our brightest and best graduates.

a