The Union of Students in Ireland (USI) is calling for student teachers to receive an hourly rate of pay to cover costs while on work placement.
The USI has released a report today detailing the financial expenses accrued by student teachers while working on placements. The report details that the average cost of work placement for student teachers amounts to €160 on a weekly basis. Expenses include travel, classroom resources and materials, food.
USI President Michael Kerrigan, speaking at the report’s launch, explained that “along with working part-time jobs, students are on placements lasting 30-35 hours a week with no support for travel, food or materials”.
“It’s time our government valued student teachers,” said Kerrigan. “Otherwise, we’re faced with a drought of talent with the shortage of teachers reaching crisis point.”
Costs also include mandatory two-week trips to the Gaeltacht which student teachers must take twice during the course of their studies. Each trip costs approximately €750 for fees and accommodation. According to the report, 89% of current students feel that the compulsory Gaeltacht fee is too high. Only those who already qualify for a student grant are entitled to financial support for these trips.
The Gaeltacht fee, which amounts to €1,500 across two trips, is the most frequently cited motivator by student teachers for working part-time alongside work placement. Over seven in ten current placement students engage in part-time work in addition to their work placement positions in schools.
In the survey of 3,000 prospective teachers, 96% of current student teachers said their time on work placement was “highly stressful”, with finance as a key driver of this stress. 42% of student teachers consider dropping out of their college course because of financial pressures incurred through work placements.
Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) President Joanne Irwin called this figure “alarming” particularly given that there “is already a crisis in Irish education in terms of teacher recruitment and retention”.
The USI has proposed reinstating state support to cover the cost of Gaeltacht placements. Previously, a €637 grant was given towards the cost of what was then a three-week Gaeltacht placement. In 2014, the Department of Education estimated that the reinstatement of a grant would cost around €1 million.
The survey was conducted alongside trade unions Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU), Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI), Association of Secondary Teachers in Ireland (ASTI) and Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO).
John Boyle, INTO President, said that “while school placement is an integral part of initial teacher education, additional time spent in schools needs to be accompanied by support for student teachers to compensate for expenses such as transport, clothing, classroom resources and materials and loss of part time earnings while on placement”.
“Without government action on this there is a very real fear that success in school placement could become a factor of ability to pay rather than ability to teach,” continued Boyle.
In 2012, the length of time required for teaching degrees was increased from three to four years. This was partly in order to facilitate additional work placements for student teachers in order to ensure newly-graduated teachers had sufficient experience working with primary school students.
Bachelor of Education students in St Patrick’s College, Dublin undertake thirty weeks of placement in schools during a four-year degree.