Belfast Telegraph

Friday 26 December 2014

Viewpoint: Teacher union job plan makes sense

The mismatch between universities and the world of work has once again been highlighted - this time by the disclosure that three out of four newly trained teachers are unable to secure full-time posts. The reality is that too many teachers are being churned out for the jobs on offer.

It is an issue which is already causing headaches in the health service. Doctors, nurses and midwives are emerging from years of training to find that jobs are in short supply. This is a result not of decreasing demand for their services but of swingeing cutbacks in the public sector.

Education, though, has been particularly hard hit because of the reduction in pupil numbers which has led to a rationalisation of schools in all sectors. But surely there must be a case for reducing class sizes rather than telling teachers that their years of training have been in vain.

Northern Ireland could well take a leaf out of Scotland's book where all newly-qualified teachers are entitled to a year in post. That at least gives new recruits an opportunity to sample life as a teacher - and something to put on their CV.

In the short term, though, the Department of Education should give urgent consideration to the proposal tabled by the Irish National Teachers Organisation to implement the Preparation, Planning and Assessment (PPA) time directive.

This would enable schools to take on up to 1.500 new teachers to provide cover for existing staff who need more time during the working day to prepare for classes. The programme is already in operation in Britain, so why the delay in rolling it out in Northern Ireland?

The Department says that a recommendation to introduce PPA in Northern Ireland is being considered by the Teacher Negotiating Committee, which includes employers, unions and the teachers. For the sake of school pupils - and for newly qualified teachers - this process must be expedited.

The underlying problem, of course, is that the universities and teacher training colleges are taking in too many students. All higher education institutions are under pressure to keep numbers up but it is not productive to produce so many graduates for whom there are no jobs.

The inevitable result is that teaching graduates, many of whom are saddled with student loans, are forced either to take on more menial jobs or to join the brain drain and head for jobs in Britain or further afield. Their talents are likely to be lost to Northern Ireland for ever.

Schools in the province are rightly proud of their record at GSCE and A-level, with last month's results setting new records. But a schools system which is already contending with a period of unprecedented change cannot afford simply to turn its back on the next generation of teachers.

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