Teacher training centres in Northern Ireland should be merged, says Basil McCrea
An Ulster Unionist MLA has said that the merger of two of Northern Ireland's largest teaching institutions could be a means to solving the problem of young teachers out of work.
Basil McCrea said there were "too many teacher training facilities" and that merging Stranmillis College and Queen's University would be a possible solution.
During an Assembly debate yesterday, Education Minister John O'Dowd said the number of trainee teachers in Northern Ireland had fallen by almost a quarter since 2004.
In his first day as Deputy First Minister, he said he took seriously concerns over poor employment prospects for newly qualified teachers - adding he wanted to ensure they were afforded every opportunity to obtain posts.
"Whilst I want to maximise the opportunities for newly qualified teachers here, it is important to remember that we are faced with economic challenges that are unprecedented in living memory. Every profession, not just teaching, is experiencing increased competition for jobs."
His comments follow claims by DUP MLA Jonathan Craig that up to 95% of newly qualified teachers cannot find full-time positions.
According to the Department of Education, it would cost £20m a year to guarantee newly-qualified teachers a year's induction - a system used in Scotland which, according to the minister, is yet unproven.
Members were in agreement that there was a serious imbalance between the demand for teaching positions and the supply of suitable full-time jobs.
One area of concern among members was the issue of experienced teachers retiring early before re-entering the workforce as substitutes. Mr O'Dowd said that measures in place - whereby schools pay more for experienced teachers out of their own pockets - were working.
"These steps have helped reduce the number of temporary days worked by prematurely retired teachers by over one-third since 2008/2009," he said.
Mr O'Dowd added that three-quarters of teachers who graduated in 2006 were now employed in a teaching post.