Calls for Irish teachers to be rewarded for service abroad to ease supply ‘crisis’

Recruitment and retention set to dominate teaching unions’ Easter conferences as Foley announces new funding package for schools

Teaching unions are set to demand that Irish teachers returning from Dubai and Australia be awarded pay increases for their service abroad to help ease a “crisis” in recruitment and retention.

The three teachers’ unions’ annual conferences begin this week with measures to address staff shortages among the issues set to dominate proceedings.

At present, second-level teachers returning from positions in private schools outside the EU are placed on the lowest point of the teachers’ salary scale here despite their experience abroad.

Teachers’ unions say this affects the majority of those who may wish to return to Ireland from countries such as the United Arab Emirates and elsewhere.

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The Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI), which meets in Killarney on Tuesday, is set to debate on a motion calling for incremental credit to be awarded to these teachers to encourage them to return home.

TUI general secretary Michael Gillespie said delays in tackling this issue in the middle of a teacher recruitment and retention crisis were “unfathomable”.

“Second-level schools across the country are experiencing unprecedented struggles in putting teachers in front of classes, yet the Department [of Education] still refuses to properly facilitate a highly qualified and significantly experienced cohort in returning to Irish schools,” he said.

“These dedicated professionals have honed their skills in diverse environments, gaining a wealth of relevant knowledge and an international perspective. Now more than ever, we need to dismantle the barriers and deterrents that are preventing them from returning home to use their expertise within our own education system.”

Meanwhile, in advance of the teaching unions’ conferences, Minister for Education Norma Foley has announced the long-awaited release of almost €80 million in funding to support digital learning in schools and minor building works.

A total of €50 million in grant funding for Information and Communications Technology (ICT) will issue shortly to all recognised primary and post-primary schools, while a separate €29 million in minor-works funding is being provided to primary and special schools.

She said the ICT funding is being provided to schools to help them continue to use digital technologies in their teaching, learning and assessment, while the minor works funding can be used by these schools for maintenance and small-scale improvements to school buildings and grounds.

The Association of Secondary Teachers of Ireland, which meets in Wexford from Tuesday onwards, will also debate a motion calling for teaching service abroad in recognised second-level schools to be included in the calculation of incremental credit.

In addition, it is due to debate motions calling for the two-year postgraduate master’s in education (PME), which replaced the old one-year “Hdip” qualification, to be reduced to a single year to help boost teacher supply.

Members argue the cost — typically €15,000 or more — and duration of the qualification is a barrier for many to enter the profession.

At the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) congress in Derry, which begins on Monday, there will also be motions seeking to address recruitment and retention.

One seeks to instruct the union’s executive to negotiate with the department for an allowance — similar to the London weighting allowance — to compensate for higher living costs in cities. It says such a move could help cushion “extortionate accommodation costs” in cities.

This stance is not supported by other unions such as the TUI, for example, which argues that such a move would be difficult to implement equitably and could end up driving accommodation prices even more.

The INTO congress will also hear motions calling for the reinstatement of academic and other allowances, which were withdrawn for new teachers in 2012, to make the profession more attractive.

Ms Foley, who is due to address the INTO conference on Monday evening, has said the “vast majority” of sanctioned teacher positions are filled and the rate of resignation and retirement is “very low”.

She has said the most recent budget includes measures to cushion the cost of the PME by €2,000, while an additional 1,000 middle-management posts are due to be provided in the school system for the 2024-25 school year.

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