Ceisteanna – Questions. Priority Questions. - Teaching Qualifications.

Olwyn Enright

Question:

1 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Education and Science the way in which he intends to ensure all primary school children are taught by fully trained and qualified teachers. [21912/02]

Paul Nicholas Gogarty

Question:

5 Mr. Gogarty asked the Minister for Education and Science the action he intends to take to ensure that more suitably qualified teachers are employed in primary schools in view of a recent report by the INTO that almost 10% of teachers do not have a recognised primary teaching qualification. [21915/02]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 and 5 together.

A range of measures to improve teacher supply have been introduced in recent years. The intake to the B.Ed. programme in the colleges of education has been increased dramatically. Since 1999, more than 1,000 students have been admitted annually to the undergraduate B.Ed. programme. This represents a doubling of the number admitted to the programme in 1996. Since 1996, postgraduate diploma courses have been run by the colleges of education to increase further the number of B.Ed graduates. In February 2002, 461 students commenced the postgraduate course and these students will graduate in June 2003. A further post-graduate course will commence in February 2003. The number of students to be admitted to that course is being finalised with the colleges of education.

A total of 1,633 students completed the postgraduate course between 1996 and 2002. As outlined, the total intake to the colleges of education in the 2001-02 academic year was increased to a record 1,461. This compares with an intake of 500 in 1996-97. There are some 3,460 students enrolled and pursuing various stages of primary teacher training programmes in the colleges of education. Between 2002 and 2003, it is projected that some 2,700 qualified primary teachers will graduate from the colleges of education. This represents a huge increase in the number of trained graduates compared with 1995 when 291 graduated.

My Department is examining the feasibility of providing a modular type course for second level trained teachers teaching in primary schools, who hold the Higher Diploma in Education and the necessary academic requirement in Irish. This proposal will be discussed with the colleges of education in the near future and, if implemented, would enable these teachers to become fully qualified primary teachers. As well as increasing the number of student places in the colleges of education, my Department has introduced a range of initiatives to address the current shortage of qualified teachers. B. Ed. graduates of St. Mary's College, Belfast, who study Irish to honours level as an academic subject are now recognised as fully qualified. In addition, primary degree holders with the Higher Diploma in Education are now paid on the trained salary scale in respect of temporary teaching service. Teachers trained in EU countries are also paid at the trained rate for up to five years pending attainment of the necessary competence in Irish, while teachers trained outside the EU whose qualifications are accepted by my Department are granted the same provisional recognition as EU trained teachers.

Furthermore, those who successfully complete the three year Montessori course in St. Nicholas, Dún Laoghaire, that is recognised by the NCEA, and those who attain the Montessori qualification on completion of the three year full time course in the AMI college are recognised as fully qualified for substitute teaching. Such teachers are also fully recognised for teaching service in certain categories of special schools and classes where Irish is not a requirement on the curriculum. Fully qualified teachers trained outside the State are also fully recognised to teach in these categories of schools and classes. I am confident the measures outlined above are contributing significantly to an improvement in the supply of trained primary teachers. I am committed to ensuring the existing shortage of qualified teachers will be eliminated in the next two to three years.

I welcome the provisions outlined by the Minister, which go some way towards addressing the problem. However, while teachers are coming in at one end of the system, some are also going out at the other end and there is a serious problem with regard to retention of primary school teachers. The reality is that 30,000 to 40,000 pupils in primary schools in Ireland are not being taught by qualified teachers and half of that number are being taught by unqualified people. That is not acceptable. Those most affected are people in disadvantaged areas.

In view of the statement by the INTO that its members will refuse to teach in the schools concerned if the problem is not sorted out by 2005, is the Minister confident that all primary school pupils in this country will be taught by qualified teachers by then?

I agree it is not acceptable to have a shortage of primary school teachers but such situations are not changed overnight. I have quoted the figures for graduations in 1995 and 1996 was not much better because of decisions taken at that time. I have also outlined what has been happening since then and I am confident that, by 2005, notwithstanding the Deputy's point with regard to teachers leaving the system, we will reach our objective. If the INTO continues to insist on going on strike in 2005 and if I am not satisfied there will be sufficient qualified teachers, other aspects may have to be looked at, such as the number of teachers out of the system on career breaks or secondment. However, with the measures I have outlined, I believe the number of graduates should meet the needs by 2005. As the Deputy will be aware, the number of pupils attending primary schools is beginning to level out at this stage.

I welcome the steps outlined by the Minister to increase graduate numbers and to enable more qualified primary teachers to come on stream. In view of the Minister's comment that such developments do not happen overnight, is he aware of a report published in December 2000 by the Joint Committee on Education and Science on the availability of teaching staff in primary schools? That report, for which the rapporteur was Deputy Sargent, made 28 recommendations on measures to help ensure an adequate supply of recognised teachers in Irish primary schools. While there has been some movement, such as in relation to Montessori teachers, the INTO requires conversion courses for three year Montessori teachers. Is the Minister aware of recommendation No. 9 with regard to greater availability of conversion courses for graduates or those with teaching experience, using distance learning technology? That would allow people to achieve the required standard on a cost effective basis. Has the Minister considered another recommendation concerning the use of retired staff with specific qualifications, such as music, to fill some of the vacancies? In view of the Minister's recent statement about a special fund for teachers in disadvantaged areas, what are his plans in that regard and in relation to the other recommendations in the report to which I have referred?

As the Deputy has recognised, many of the recommendations in the report were implemented or are in the course of implementation. The question of a conversion course is still subject to discussion with unions and has neither been ruled out nor ruled in at this stage. With regard to some of the other suggestions on retired teachers etc, our approach is to try to ensure there are sufficient qualified teachers in all classes over the next two to three years. Our main focus has been on increasing the number of people becoming qualified as primary teachers and that approach will be maintained. If it appears a few years from now that we may not reach the target, other measures will be looked at and the use of retired teachers would be one of the options.

In trying to reach the targets, has the Minister considered recruiting more men into the system? In last years figures for the teacher training colleges, female student teachers out-numbered male student teachers by nine to one. Will gender balance in the system be looked at in the context of the measures outlined by the Minister?

Does the Minister propose to introduce an incentive to ensure the retention of qualified teachers in disadvantaged areas, which tend to have the highest leakage levels? Disadvantaged areas have the highest leakage levels and the proposal for an extra salary allowance would be welcomed. Does the Minister plan to introduce this soon?

I do not want to avoid this but there is a question on this subject later. I repeat what I said. There is a problem retaining teachers in disadvantaged areas. We are doing research to see how great the problem is. It needs to be addressed because, as those of us who have teaching experience know, the longer a teacher is in situ the more he or she builds up trust and rapport with children from the area. That is particularly true in a disadvantaged area. I want to do something about it. The Deputy will be aware that a forum on disadvantage will be convened next Monday. I am sure that this will be one of the issues it will address.

I did not particularly focus on extra pay or extra wages. There are other incentives which can be put in place. The most significant problem faced by teachers in disadvantaged areas is burn-out because of the intensity of the work. Many of the teachers who work in these areas do so out of a sense of vocation and may face burn-out more quickly. I would like to leave the options on incentives as open as possible.

Deputy Enright raised the point about gender balance in teacher training. This has not happened overnight but has been a trend for a number of years. I understand from recollection that this year and last year the balance has slightly tilted back. I do not think that I can pursue sexist policies on entrance to teacher training.