Newly qualified teachers

The majority of newly qualified teachers (NQTs) graduating from teacher training courses in the North face an uncertain career path.

The majority of newly qualified teachers (NQTs) graduating from teacher training courses in the North face an uncertain career path. For them, the revival of a directed employment scheme offers a prospect of hope.

The option available to those who wish to access initial teacher education, incorporating both primary and post-primary, is enrolment in either a Bachelor in Education or a Post Graduate Certificate in Education course.

The number of students to be admitted to initial teacher education each year is determined by the Department of Education using the teacher demand model (TDM). The approved intake for 2016/17 replicated that of the previous academic year with 580 students gaining entry across four institutions. This figure, a 3 per cent drop on the 2013/2014 and 2014/15 entry, marks the lowest intake in over two decades.

St Mary’s University College accepted a combined total of 165 BEd and PGCE students, while Stranmillis University College took 160. Queen’s University Belfast took on 138 PGCE students and Ulster University took on 117. While previously the Open University accepted up to 20 students on their post-primary PGCE, this programme was withdrawn after 2014/2015.

Upon completion of their studies, newly qualified teachers must contend with the harsh reality that competition for local teaching vacancies is intense. Figures produced by the General Teaching Council for Northern Ireland in February 2014 indicate that, of those teachers who graduated in June 2013, 82 per cent had not secured full-time employment. For many the choice is stark: join the overcrowded employment pool in the North, relocate to England or join the multitude of young teachers emigrating to the lure of international schools in the Far and Middle East.

It was within this context that the previous Education Minister urged prospective teachers: “anybody considering taking up a career in teaching should think very, very carefully about it.” Speaking on BBC Radio Ulster in early 2016, John O’Dowd warned student teachers: “No one should enter the teaching profession in the belief that they’re going to come out the other side and obtain full-time employment [here].”

However, the revival of the Investing in the Teaching Workforce Scheme by Education Minister Peter Weir, originally announced by O’Dowd in December 2015, will be of some consolation to newly qualified teachers. The programme had stalled amid a dispute regarding eligibility criteria, but Weir has provided a lifeline for the initiative. The £8 million pilot scheme, financed by the Public Sector Transformation Fund, was officially launched in September 2016.

The objective is to re-profile the teaching workforce by enabling over-55s to voluntarily exit the profession and gain full access to any pension accrued to date. The positions left vacant by this exodus of older teachers will then be advertised from Spring 2017. Following the assessment and approval of applications from the teachers who wish to leave, guidance states: “All appointments for recently qualified teachers must be accepted and have taken up post by 1 September 2017 to avail of the scheme.”

Having listened to teachers’ concerns, the Department made a minor, though significant, alteration which ensures that access has now been extended to recently qualified teachers who graduated from 2012 up to and including 2016, rather than the initial proposal which only extended as far as those who had graduated since 2013. However, funding secured for the scheme has also been cut from an original proposal of £33 million. Subsequently, the number of teachers who will be able to take advantage of the scheme has been reduced from 500 to 120.

Acknowledging the anger felt by more experienced teachers who fall outside of the eligibility parameters but have themselves yet to find a permanent post, Minister Weir states: “Without this scheme these employment opportunities would not exist.” He adds: “Applications from recently qualified teachers are often the first to be eliminated in the recruitment process, as experience is used as a short listing criteria for these posts.”

INTO’s Northern Secretary Gerry Murphy, voices the union’s approval: “This pilot scheme will begin what INTO hopes will be an abiding process of renewal and refreshment of the teaching profession. The scheme will allow an equal number of recently qualified teachers to secure full-time employment. It is this group of teachers who have been identified as experiencing the greatest difficulty in securing full time employment.”

Conceding that many teachers perceive the scheme to fall far short of their anticipations, Murphy measures his response and suggests: “This should be recognised as a beginning not an end.” The Department advises: “Dependent upon the uptake and success, consideration will be given to submitting a bid to the PSTF for an Investing in the Teaching Workforce Scheme in 2017/18.”

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