A crisis in the supply of teachers in key subjects has “exploded” in schools and has serious implications for the education of children, the country’s biggest secondary teachers’ union has warned.
Kieran Christie, ASTI’s (Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland) general secretary, said young teachers are “leaving the profession in droves” and making it difficult for schools to hire qualified teachers.
He said the Minister for Education’s aims to make Ireland the best in Europe in subjects such as science and maths show that he was “in denial of the facts that surround him”.
Mr Christie said shortages of teachers in so-called Stem subjects were among the most acute.
He said the union also rejected any proposals that shortfalls in substitution be made up through the employment of unqualified personnel.
“The students in our schools deserve qualified teachers,” he said.
“Stopgap” solutions proposed by the Minister, such as limited career breaks or encouraging homemakers into the teaching profession, simply “won’t cut it”.
Mr Christie said shortage were being caused by two-tier payscales for new entrants and the “culture of casualisation” involving teachers on low hours.
“The discriminatory treatment of post-2010 teachers has serious implications for the future of the teaching profession and the education of children and young people,” he said.
“ These newly-qualified, and indeed some who are not so newly qualified anymore, are voting with their feet or with their visas more like it. They are leaving our shores in droves.”
Mr Christie also warned that industrial action may be needed in order to ensure the Government makes progress on introducing pay equality.
The ASTI, along with the Teachers’ Union of Ireland and Irish National Teachers’ Organisation, have all agreed motions calling for potential strike action if progress is not made by early May.
“ It may be that it will take a course of industrial action by all three teacher unions to have this out, once and for all,” he said.
“I believe we won’t have to wait much longer to find out. Yesterday you built on the work that has been going on all year, making it clear that if no resolution emerges, industrial action will follow. And follow it must.”
Mr Christie also sounded a warning that planned reforms to the Leaving Cert must include teachers.
He said the ASTI was “ not opposed to reform per se”, but any changes must be based on solid educational principles which support good teaching and learning.
The union “will never surrender on its principle” that teachers will not assess their own students for certificate examination purposes.
“ASTI supports externally assessed state examinations, not for selfish reasons but because they meet the professional requirements of any national examination, namely, that it is fair, transparent and objective,” he said.
Mr Christie said teachers need to be involved in any curriculum changes.
“Research shows that good relations between governments and teacher unions can lead to improved educational practices in schools,” he said.
“ Teachers deserve to have their professional knowledge and experience respected and to have their concerns listened to. This is the way forward in ensuring that teachers have confidence in any new curriculum model.”