The number of teachers securing jobs in Northern Ireland has plummeted from 89% to just 16% in a decade, it has emerged.
It means that nine out of every 10 teachers who graduated in 2004-5 are today employed in the teaching profession whereas less than one in five who qualified in 2012-13 have so far found even temporary work lasting more than one school term.
The massive drop in employment opportunities for highly qualified graduates has led to calls for more to be done to protect the skillbase of out-of-work teachers after Education Minister John O’Dowd decided not to cut the number of training places.
For a student to be in with a chance of training as a nursery/ primary teacher at Stranmillis University College they have to achieve two As and a B at A-Level to get on a four-year course.
The figures have emerged in response to an Assembly Question tabled by East Antrim DUP MLA Alastair Ross.
Mr Ross said: “Whilst the hiring of an additional 230 teachers as part of the Executive's Delivering Social Change agenda is very welcome news, the figures revealed by my question are quite startling. In the year 2005, something like nine out of 10 teaching graduates could expect to find a teaching post yet by the last financial year that figure fell to less than two out 10.
“The figures show that there is clearly a surplus of teaching graduates in Northern Ireland, which presents us with a major problem because if people fresh out of college have to wait around for years before securing a teaching post, valuable skills could be lost or they may simply never get the chance to make their mark.”
Latest figures from the General Teaching Council Northern Ireland (GTCNI) show the dramatic decline in teacher graduates in employment.
It has dropped from 89% to less than half of graduates in 2010- 11 (45%) today working permanently or for more than one term in teaching.
Just 30% of 2011-12 graduates gained employment and so far only 16% of 2012-13 graduates.
Mr Ross added: “My colleague Mervyn Storey recently revealed that the various education and library boards around Northern Ireland are spending in excess of £60m on substitute teachers. There may be an argument, within the structures of fair employment legislation, for the establishment of a scheme that affords newly graduated teachers, as opposed to retirees, access to these opportunities to ensure they develop their skills and are not lost to the profession.”
The figures have been revealed just two weeks after John O’Dowd decided to freeze the number of teacher training places available in Northern Ireland at 600 each for 2013-14 and 2014-15 — despite the lack of jobs due to cuts in the education budget, squeezed school finances, falling pupil numbers, teaching redundancies and school closures.
Yet last month an independent report by Grant Thornton, commissioned by Minister Stephen Farry, revealed that two of our five teacher colleges — Stranmillis in south Belfast and St Mary’s University College, west Belfast — receive extra funding.
They command 82% of the funding for teacher training — also provided by Queen’s, Ulster and the Open universities — and are the only UK teacher training establishments to receive additional money to core funding.
Professor Linda Clarke, head of School of Education at Ulster, said: “The level of funding for the colleges is much higher than for the universities. It’s a terrible injustice to the universities who are providing integrated, cost-effective provision.”
She too expressed concerns about employment opportunities.
“The quality of students that choose to teach is very high,” said Professor Clarke. “If we do not provide them with outlets in terms of employment we might lose them.”
Figures not necessarily as gloomy as they look
We have been aware for some time of the declining school population, the reducing school budgets as a result, and from the challenging economy.
We are aware that unemployed graduates are not limited to education. We all know about the issue around having five teacher training providers, as Employment Minister Dr Farry highlighted recently.
It is worth pointing out that the raw percentages need some explanation. While the figure of 89% employment of teacher graduates for 2004-05 seems reassuring, we must remember that many of that year’s graduates took several years to find permanent employment.
The figures are distorted by returning graduates from England and Scotland, competing for places with those from our providers.
The figures presented refer to full-time posts only; many teacher-trained graduates successfully gain part-time or temporary employment enhancing their skills. To illustrate this I present figures for the University of Ulster for the past year.
In the post primary group only 7% remained unemployed. Some 7% went into non-teaching posts and 33% into full-time teaching. Some 36% went into various part-time teacher employment including substitute teaching. Just 1% were not available for employment, 13% continued studies and 2% went to England. I am sure the situation in the other providers is similar.
Dr Sam McGuinness is MEd programme course director, School of Education, University of Ulster