Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 23 July 2014

Dumping teachers only harms pupils

While it has to be acknowledged that the Department of Education is under financial pressure with £800m being taken out of its budget over the period 2011-15, the wisdom of making savings by getting rid of teachers has to be seriously questioned.

As this newspaper reveals today, an average of one teacher is leaving the profession every day and the rate of redundancies is growing annually.

This haemorrhage of skilled professionals might make sense if the education sector was operating at full economic efficiency at present, but that is far from the case. There are thousands of empty desks and we continue to have the segregation of schoolchildren, meaning teaching resources are duplicated. Both problems need addressing, but there is little likelihood of significant movement on shared schooling in the foreseeable future.

There is also a lack of joined-up thinking on tackling the problems within education.

While we continue to produce many high achievers, we also have an appalling record on literacy and numeracy and of many pupils leaving school without meaningful qualifications. Teachers, already under strain trying to cope with the bureaucracy in their jobs, now face teaching bigger classes, which runs contrary to the aim of giving more help to the less academically able pupils.

Other wastage in the sector includes having five separate teacher training providers, two of which have to be financially propped up by government here. And these providers are sending out hundreds of teachers each year who have very little opportunity of finding a permanent job. Just around 5% of them get a post in their first year.

The problems in the sector cannot continue to be tackled in a piecemeal fashion with attempts to plug funding gaps as they appear. It needs a radical overhaul and the minister, John O'Dowd, must take unpopular decisions if those who really matter – the pupils – are not to be disadvantaged.

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