There was a time when a career in teaching was synonymous with security and permanency; a job for life. Today, advertisements for school substitution work are guaranteed to fill school post boxes to the brim with CVs and cover letters from qualified and overly qualified applicants – desperate to get that ‘foot in the door’ of a school. Unemployed teachers and especially newly qualified teachers are facing huge difficulty in getting work this year. Why? Education cuts continue to take their toll on staffing, along with a few other worrying (less talked about) issues and practices.
In every industry and in every system there will always be an element of unfairness and nepotism; the education system is not immune to these regrettable practices. It doesn’t help unemployed teachers or those on few hours to see retired teachers brought in for sub-work or to fill maternity/sick leave. It certainly does not help when retired teachers or those with posts of responsibility are given supervisory/examiner roles during state exams; which gives a healthy financial top-up to an already healthy income.
Recent claims and figures show that in the first six weeks of this school year, 140 retired teachers were called on to do substitution work. The daily sub-rate for primary teaching and per hour for a secondary school teacher would help a lot of newly qualified teachers to pay back college loans, pay mortgages or their landlords. Unemployed teachers must be wondering why some principals are not abiding by a recently made rule in relation to them; a rule which obliges principals to give priority to unemployed teachers. In the case of the 140 retirees given work; those seeking work were left wondering: was it not possible to find an unemployed teacher in the case of these 140 positions?
The Irish National Teachers’ Organisation announced that schools all over the country were getting an over-response to advertised positions. INTO president Anne Fay made the point, that it showed the extent of current teacher unemployment. Although growing enrolments mean additional teachers have to be employed for new classes; this recruitment is offset by serious reductions in areas such as resource and English-language teaching. In the case of secondary schools; the reduction in Guidance provision means guidance counsellors have to return to teaching main stream classes which eats into the general teacher allocation. Ms Fay said: “In every county in Ireland there are highly qualified teachers looking for work.” She also added that despite this, Ireland has some of the largest classes in the EU at primary level.
It is a real matter of concern when one looks at the fact that most schools get up to 500 applications for one or two positions. There is also another worrying issue: a lot of advertised jobs are just that – advertisements! There is the possibility that the job is earmarked for somebody known to the school or the principal.
Many principals who are genuinely seeking suitable applicants are empathetic to those seeking work – with some principals noting the high calibre of teachers applying for the advertised position. Some applicants are qualified in more than one discipline – with one or two undergraduate degrees and postgraduate qualifications, not to mention the additional extra-curricular qualifications they offer a school. They are also noticing how some applicants are repeat applicants which means they (more than likely) have remain unemployed between both positions being advertised.
What are the solutions? Principals who fail to apply the rule of preference given to unemployed teachers should be held accountable. Perhaps the government needs to put an official moratorium on third level places for student teachers until the existing numbers of those unemployed are significantly reduced. The government needs to overlook teacher training akin to the Garda training; recruitment and training is a result of demand and need. Finally, nepotism should be ruled out by issuing all principals guidelines when it comes to appropriate recruitment.
It is ironic that teachers (employed and unemployed) have to pay ninety euros per annum to the Teaching Council of Ireland when so many of them are unemployed. Perhaps the Teaching Council should be given the role of monitoring appropriate recruitment of teachers to school. It would also not be a hard task for the Teaching Council to set up a registrar of qualified unemployed teachers for principals to draw from according to their geographical location and school need. Unemployed teachers might see it as ninety euros worthwhile if this was put into place.
It is estimated that there are over 110,000 unemployed graduates in the country. Teacher Unions estimate that there are in excess of 800-1,000 trained primary teachers who are not in regular employment; with a higher number of unemployed or under-employed teachers at the post-primary level.
At the moment the future looks bleak for teaching as a career – that is, if you haven’t ‘got a foot’ in a school door already.