Just 31 teachers sign up for early retirement scheme in Northern Ireland
A controversial scheme to help older teachers retire early and be replaced by younger colleagues has gone ahead, but with just a quarter of the participants originally envisaged.
Only 31 teachers are set to leave the profession under the Department of Education's Investing in the Teaching Workforce scheme.
When the £33m scheme was launched in 2015, it had envisaged allowing up to 120 teachers over the age of 55 to retire early in 2016/17.
However, the 31 participants will depart between December and next March.
The job opportunities their departures will create will be advertised by the Education Authority and the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS) this week.
The Ulster Teachers' Union (UTU) expressed its disappointment, adding the scheme "falls far short of what is needed".
"Last year we were shocked when the £33m Investing in the Workforce scheme, to enable older teachers to retire early and free up jobs for their younger counterparts, was put on hold," said UTU general secretary Avril Hall Callaghan. "Our main concern was that this £33m would be lost from the education purse entirely but the Department then said it would launch an £8m pilot scheme this term.
"The importance of the Investing in the Workforce scheme cannot be over-stressed as without it Northern Ireland's teaching profession could be facing its biggest crisis in a generation.
"The original £33m scheme would be a lifeline for the profession to give 500 newly-qualified teachers permanent jobs. It would allow teachers over the age of 55 to retire to provide a job for a recently trained teacher who has been unable to find a post, thereby refreshing the workforce."
The original Investing in the Teaching Workforce programme was announced in 2015 by former Education Minister John O'Dowd.
However it sparked fury among a number of teachers who had been qualified to teach longer and spent years in temporary posts who felt they had been excluded.
It was then delayed due to lack of agreement over the criteria, including the definition of the term "newly-qualified".
Mr O'Dowd's successor, Peter Weir, announced a revised scheme would go ahead in June 2016. That scheme was suspended in March pending a legal challenge. But in 2017 a judge ruled that the terms of the Investing in the Teaching Workforce programme were lawful.
Yesterday the Department said an evaluation will be carried out to see if the anticipated benefits have been realised, after which the Department will decide on next steps.