Belfast Telegraph

Drop in teaching graduates down to 'major and ongoing assault' on industry, says union

By Michael Sheils McNamee

The head of one of Northern Ireland’s biggest teaching unions has said that a “major and ongoing assault” on the profession is to blame for a drop in teaching numbers.

In a statement to the Belfast Telegraph, General Secretary Chris Keates of the NASUWT teachers’ union responded to new figures from the Department of the Economy, which show an 11.5% drop in teaching graduates over a five-year period.

In real terms, the steady decline means that there were 70 less teachers coming into the education system in 2015/2016 than there were in 2011/2012.

The NASUWT is a UK-wide body that represents teachers in Northern Ireland.

“Scandalously teachers have had no pay award for the last two years,” said Ms Keates.

“This at a time when workload is spiralling out of control. This regrettably is making teaching an increasingly unattractive career. In addition, for those who do choose to teach, securing a permanent post is extremely difficult.”

“Sadly I fear this decline in numbers will continue unless politicians face up to the fact that urgent action is needed to recognise and reward teachers as highly skilled professionals.”

This view was shared by the head of the Ulster Teachers’ Union, Avril Hall-Callaghan, who warned that “in England and Wales they have a shortage of teachers, and we could end up that way if we’re not careful”.

“Young teachers try their best, but they are unable to get permanent jobs within the first five or six years. It is a loss to the teaching profession but it is also a loss to the country,” she said.

She added that her organisation has pushed for the ‘Investing in the Teaching Workforce’ scheme, which aims to create more openings in the teaching industry for younger teachers.

The scheme had been due to be introduced this year, but due to a legal challenge will now take effect for the 2017/2018 school year.

For 2015/2016, there were a total of 545 graduates from initial or pre-service teacher training courses in Northern Ireland.

Across the board, participation in higher education has remained fairly steady over the same period - with 48.8% of people aged under 21 entering into higher education in 2011/2012, compared with 48.2% in 2015/2016.

The drop in numbers has come only from those graduating to work as secondary teachers, with the total number falling by 80.

The number of graduate primary school teachers actually increased by 10, bringing the net loss of teaching graduates to 70.

In 2015, figures released by then Education Minister John O'Dowd in response to an Assembly question showed that just one third of graduates in Northern Ireland were able to secure jobs.

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