Thursday, 1 February 2018

Ceisteanna (5)

Seamus Healy

Ceist:

5. Deputy Seamus Healy asked the Minister for Education and Skills his plans to end the unequal remuneration of new entrants in the teaching profession as a key step in addressing shortages of teaching staff; his further plans to end the teaching shortage; if all such measures have been agreed with the teaching unions concerned; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4981/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (15 contributions) (Ceist ar Education)

All education stakeholders now acknowledge there is an unprecedented crisis in recruitment and retention of teachers. In fact, today at lunchtime, 15,000 members of the Teachers' Union of Ireland in schools and colleges throughout the country will protest outside their workplaces demanding a change in Government policy. My question asks the Minister to face up to this crisis and to put effective measures in place to solve the crisis, including the introduction of pay parity for young teachers who commenced employment on or after 1 January 2011.

Reduced pay scales for new entrants to the public service were introduced in 2010. I am pleased that, under the Lansdowne Road Agreement, together with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform I negotiated a programme of pay restoration with the teacher unions. Through this process, a 15% to 22% pay increase was negotiated for new teachers. The agreements to date have restored an estimated 75% of the difference in pay for newer teachers and deliver full equality at later points in the scale. As a result of these changes, the current starting salary of a new teacher is €35,958 and, from 1 October 2020, will be €37,692. This is a very competitive graduate salary, as the CSO reports today have confirmed.

I have successfully hired over 5,000 extra teachers in the last two years. We are hiring more teachers than at any other point in the State's history.

Any further negotiation on new entrant pay is a cross-sectoral issue, not just an issue for the education sector. The public service stability agreement 2018-20 contains a commitment to consider the issue of newly qualified teacher pay within 12 months of the agreement’s commencement and that process has started. Also, the Public Service Pay and Pensions Act 2017 provides that the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform will lay a report before the Oireachtas on the cost of, and a plan for dealing with, pay equalisation for new entrants within three months of the passing of the Act.

On the issue of teacher supply, the Deputy may wish to note that I have already announced a number of measures to increase the pool of teachers available to schools, in particular to fill short-term vacancies.

The number of applicants for the postgraduate courses which enable graduates to qualify to become second level teachers has fallen from 2,842 in 2011 to 1,068 last year. That means the number of applicants is now substantially less than half of what it was five years ago - in fact, there has been a collapse of 62% over that period. It is clear that a career as a teacher no longer has the attraction it had even five years ago. Clearly, the combination of salary scale, conditions of service and career prospects are deficient. This is exacerbated by the travesty of paying new entrants at a lower salary scale and providing a pension scheme which is significantly inferior to that enjoyed by their longer-serving colleagues.

Will the Minister, as a first step, equalise the pay scales of new entrants with their colleagues? The Catholic Primary Schools Management Association, which represents 2,800 schools, found that 90% of principals are having difficulties finding qualified or substitute teachers.

A panel is urgently needed to deal with this matter. The situation at third level is also significantly difficult and there has been a 32% increase in student numbers, a 10% reduction in staff and, not surprisingly, lecturing staff have an increased workload over and above their European colleagues.

The time is up. The Deputy will have another minute.

This is damaging and restricting the contribution of institutes to the country.

I assure the Deputy the number of students graduating as teachers is stable. There has been no fall in the number of graduates and what has happened is that we have dramatically increased the level of recruitment.

In terms of graduate supply from the master's programme referred to by the Deputy, he is right that the number of applicants for that programme has fallen. However, the number graduating from the programme has not. By contrast, the undergraduate programme is massively oversubscribed. There are more than 5,000 seeking to join the undergraduate programme, for which there are only 500 places, and I announced last week that I plan to double the number of places on that undergraduate programme. Of course, that has the advantage in financial terms that a master's fee does not have to be paid for people going that route. I have also announced that I plan to have quotas for particular subject areas where, as Deputies have pointed out, there is tightness and we need to have ambition, for example, the STEM programme and the foreign languages programme. I am establishing a teachers supply steering group which will work with all of the stakeholders to deliver these programmes. I made immediate changes in terms of the career break and the period that people could work on a career break. I have advised schools that they should not give a career break unless they can, as the circular requires, be assured it is in the best interests of children in the school and that they can fill the position vacated.

The Minister's reply reminds me of that old adage: everybody is wrong except my Johnny. The ETBs, the Association of Community and Comprehensive Schools, the joint managerial bodies, the trade unions and everybody else have acknowledged there is a significant crisis in recruitment and retention of teachers and it is getting worse. The suggestion that restricting career breaks would help is not correct and would, in fact, worsen the situation and mean we have teachers emigrating.

We must continue to have the most able people teaching our children. The continuation of current Government policy will do lasting damage to the education system. Bad and all as the situation is now, official documents and official statistics show that, at second level alone, there will be an additional 85,000 students by 2025, which will require an additional 4,000 teachers.

I am again calling on the Minister to put in place real measures, including pay parity and a panel-----

-----to deal with this crisis that is not just immediate but is staring us in the face.

Before the Minister replies, I am quite strict on the issue of time with everybody. When I allow somebody to go over time, it means somebody else will not have a question answered. I want to try to ensure that most Members who come into the House will have their question answered before 12 noon. Please try to stick to the time that is laid out, which you all know. If you do not do that, some of your colleagues will miss out. I call the Minister to reply.

There are issues in teacher supply and they are the ones I am addressing. There is the issue of substitution and the issue of subject areas, which I am addressing, and I am also planning to double the number of undergraduate places for teaching. Those are very solid responses to needs that we all acknowledge. It is worth pointing out to the Deputy that, back in 2014, before I made the improvements in pay that we negotiated with the unions, teachers were the second-highest paid graduates, second only to ICT workers.

We have made improvements since then and we have a process in place under the pay negotiations where the remaining issues of the trade unions are being discussed with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform and his advisers with a view to resolving those issues over time. There is a process in place which the Deputy should acknowledge. We are making real efforts to establish a balanced response to the needs of teachers which are, of course, important, as well as the needs of pupils. We have heard about the many challenges we must meet in regard to pupils who we must also treat equitably.