The Irish Times view on teacher shortages

Young people deserve to be taught by qualified staff who can help them reach their potential

Latest figures show some 7,000 unregistered or unqualified individuals were employed by schools last year to fill gaps for short-term absences. Photograph: iStock

Latest figures show some 7,000 unregistered or unqualified individuals were employed by schools last year to fill gaps for short-term absences. Photograph: iStock

 

As a new academic year begins, schools are grappling with a problem which appears to be steadily worsening: teacher shortages. Latest figures show some 7,000 unregistered or unqualified individuals were employed last year to fill gaps for short-term absences. This is a rise on the previous year.

At primary level, many schools say the problem is causing disruption to students who are faced with a new, unqualified or unregistered teacher every week. At second level, unions and school management bodies report that teaching places for key subjects such as Irish, home economics, science and foreign languages have been left vacant due to lack of qualified staff.

Financial incentives for students to become teachers in key subjects are needed

This shortage was foreseen about eight years ago when an expert panel on teacher education, chaired by Finnish expert Pasi Sahlberg, advised that supply and demand for teachers should be systematically monitored. It was not until late last year that a teacher supply plan was finally published with dozens of recommendations. The Government has since moved to implement many of them, such as narrowing the two-tier pay gap and increasing places on teacher education programmes. But some changes amount to little more than tinkering.

Given the financial benefits of working abroad and the excellent reputation of Irish teachers, it is no surprise that they are in such high demand elsewhere

For example, a system to monitor teacher supply and demand is still awaited although the need for a closer match between these two factors is critical. Financial incentives for students to become teachers in key subjects are also needed along with a system where specialised teachers are employed across groups of schools, as well as remuneration that encourages newly qualified personnel not to emigrate or leave the system.

Given the financial benefits of working abroad and the excellent reputation of Irish teachers, it is no surprise that they are in such high demand elsewhere. And it will take more than honeyed words and the visit of a government minister to bring them home. Young people deserve to be taught by qualified staff who have the skills to help them reach their potential. It is a win-win equation from which the State has as much to gain.