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Northern Ireland's £60m bill for calling up substitute teachers

By Lindsay Fergus

The cost of supplying substitute teachers in Northern Ireland has soared to more than £60m, it can be revealed.

In the last academic year (2010/11) almost £61.5m was paid out for substitute teachers —£8.6m more than 2006/07 when it cost just under £53m.

The South Education and Library board forked out the most for substitute teachers at £14.8m compared to £9.9m in the Western Education and Library Board.

The “astronomical” figures have led to the DUP chairman of Stormont’s education committee to call for a newly qualified teachers employment scheme to be introduced here.

Such an initiative would guarantee newly qualified teachers a year’s work and, according to the Department of Education, would cost a maximum of £20m a year.

Mervyn Storey said: “If newly qualified teachers were employed by schools or shared by schools, young teachers could be employed to provide short and long-term substitute cover. This would give our graduates the experience they need and would benefit schools.”

The North Antrim MLA claimed that newly qualified teachers could also be used to give teachers time for marking and class planning.

Last year, of the 584 teacher graduates from here who registered with the General Teaching Council, just 54 — 8% — secured permanent employment.

That concern has also been raised by the SDLP’s John Dallat in an Assembly question to the Education Minister.

Responding to the east Londonderry MLA, John O’Dowd said: “The issue of employment opportunities for teachers is something I take very seriously indeed, particularly given the current economic situation when employment opportunities in many areas are limited and there is increased competition for jobs in various walks of life.”

But the minister added: “However, teachers are highly qualified professionals and, as such, possess skills and attributes that would prepare them for many jobs in related areas.

“Therefore, it is important that they are flexible in the choices that they make to determine their career paths.”

Since 2004/05 there has been a 25% reduction in the number of students allowed to be enrolled on initial teacher training courses here to 663.

However, in light of falling enrolments in schools, the minister has admitted that he is reviewing intake numbers for September.

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