I thank the Cathaoirleach for allowing me to raise this important issue. I recently met a very frustrated recently qualified primary school teacher who, after applying for more than 200 teaching jobs had received just eight letters in reply telling her that she would not even be called for interview. Her dream has always been to be a teacher and she is determined to get a job as soon as possible so that she can put her years of training into practice. Although she is providing substitute cover in schools for days here and there she believes she has little prospect of a teaching post in the short or medium term and she is now considering emigration. She sees this as preferable to collecting the dole. What a great pity and a waste it is to see young, eager, recently qualified teachers leave this country to teach elsewhere. I have heard of other fully qualified young teachers who regularly volunteer in schools or who have taken jobs as special needs assistants to further their skills and experience and I fully commend them for it.
The situation, unfortunately, is a far cry from the high esteem in which the teaching profession is held in Finland where teaching is a highly sought after career and where professional skills are not wasted. In recent years, Finland has consistently ranked at the top of the OECD education surveys. Many international reports have cited the importance of quality teacher training and how it has brought success for Finnish students. In Finland a long tradition of high-quality teacher training is regarded as an essential factor in the success of the Finnish public education system. Primary school teachers have been undergoing master's level university training since the 1970s. The success of the Finns in their studies is based on well-trained, university-educated teachers. The high-level academic teacher training has also made the teaching profession very attractive. University-level teacher education is based on solid pedagogic knowledge and proficiency in the subject areas to be taught. All primary school teacher trainees also engage in research, which supports them throughout their careers in terms of their pedagogical thinking and professional development. Since 1995, the training of kindergarten teachers working with children between the ages of one and six has also been based on university-level Bachelor of Education studies. The Finns are already looking at raising the education of pre-school teachers to master's degree level.
If we are to develop a smart economy, surely we need to lay firm foundations in schools and provide them with the brightest and the best. Newly qualified teachers are an investment in our children's futures which we cannot afford to waste. I accept that the economic situation in which we find ourselves means that our ability to employ extra teachers is limited. However, I also believe that paying fully qualified bright young teachers the dole is a poor investment. Allowing them to emigrate is as bad or worse. I welcome the new induction courses now in place for newly qualified teachers, NQTs, throughout the country as a significant step but other opportunities are required for newly qualified teachers who cannot find work.
Some time ago a plan was proposed by Professor Tom Collins, head of education at NUI, Maynooth in response to the jobs crisis facing student teachers after it was estimated that thousands of student teachers graduating each summer would struggle to find employment. Professor Collins's plan was that qualified second level teachers would join teaching staff on a studentship programme for up to two years. They would provide ten to 15 hours teaching and extra curricular provision per week and enrol for a master's degree. At the time Professor Collins suggested that the graduates would qualify for a jobseeker's allowance of €10,000, supplemented by €10,000 from sources such as the European Social Fund and FÁS. The obvious advantages of such an Exchequer-neutral scheme would include saving teachers from the dole queue while upgrading their qualification and providing extra resources for schools.
The plan was based on using existing funding mechanisms in a new way. The idea of the scheme was to allow newly qualified teachers to begin to practice their profession and continue their academic advancement while also mitigating the worst effects of the education cutbacks. Minority subjects and programmes currently threatened by the cutbacks could be retained, while other staff members in the school could potentially be freed up to pursue studies and other pursuits if they wished. Participants in the scheme would be supernumerary and it would not result in a reduction of the current teacher allocation to the host school.
While Professor Collins's proposal was based on second level education, it could also be of great relevance in other areas, especially in primary education. In hundreds of small primary schools teaching principals struggle to teach a class or more often several classes, while also double-jobbing as managers, school policy writers and God knows what else. It is interesting to note what is happening in Northern Ireland as well. A scheme, similar to that proposed by Professor Collins would elevate the standard of the teaching profession for the future, perhaps to equal or surpass that of the Finns and would be a sound foundation stone for the smart economy we seek to develop. I urge the Minister to consider seriously the proposal.