Belfast Telegraph

Teachers lose out as retirement scheme cut back

By Donna Deeney

Hundreds of older teachers are set to be refused permission to retire early, it can be revealed.

Almost 500 teachers aged 55 years or older have applied to leave early, under a scheme set up to give jobs to teachers qualified for less than four years.

But the Department of Eduction's Investing in the Teaching Workforce scheme has made 120 places available.

Two members of the Education Committee are now urging minister Peter Weir to extend the scheme to address the higher demand for early retirement, and create more opportunities for those more recently qualified.

The scheme, launched earlier this year, will cost £8m and is reduced significantly from that announced by Mr Weir's predecessor, Sinn Fein's John O'Dowd, who wanted 500 teachers to retire and be replaced.

SDLP Education spokesman, South Down MLA, Colin McGrath has asked why the scheme was shrunk so much.

"Sinn Fein minister John O'Dowd announced that 500 teaching posts would be made available under this programme and our new DUP Minister can only deliver 120," he said.

"I want to see this scheme extended so that the original target can be achieved and I also want to see an extension to the years of service that are permitted to apply for the scheme.

"My concern is how Minister O'Dowd was able to make provision for 500 teachers to be replaced, yet Minister Weir can only deliver 120. What has changed? Is there less finance? Were the figures from last year merely aspirational?

"I am always wary of government promises that never make it to reality - not least because they cause the electorate to have less faith in politicians when they are promise something that isn't delivered."

Ulster Unionist MLA Sandra Overend said increasing the scheme will result in significant savings for the department.

"The Ulster Unionist Party criticised the scope of this scheme from the beginning," she said. "The teaching profession has become extremely static, with very little movement of permanent staff and opportunities for promotion drying up.

"It is very clear that there remain concerns that this Scheme is limited to newly qualified teachers between 2012 and 2016 and I believe that if it was opened up further to include more teachers who have frustratingly been unable to find a permanent position for many years then all applicants could avail of the scheme."

A spokeswoman for the Department of Education it was too early to say if the scheme could be extended to meet the demand for early release.

"The Department has received a total of around 460 applications for the scheme," she said.

"We are working to prioritise the applications and at this early stage are unable to provide final confirmation of the number of teachers who will be released."

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