Recent TUI survey highlights potential reasonings behind teacher shortage in Ireland – and not a single one is surprising

Bleak outlook for the future minds of Ireland as there are simply too many obstacles for those who are able and willing to teach them

A survey carried out by The Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) has returned disappointing yet unsurprising results on the recruitment difficulties faced by schools and the reasons that these positions are not being filled. The survey found that 91% of surveyed schools reported having difficulties in recruitment, a worryingly high percentage that caught media attention immediately after publication. Regardless of the initial shock of the statistics, the frustration largely arose from the numbers not being so surprising at all.

Upon further investigation and discourse on the results, the issue turns from a mere disappointing survey and becomes a frustrating addition to a pile of problems that have already been flagged as a result of the crisis the country is facing currently – crises that have been raised again and again to the government with inadequate acknowledgment and action responses. The housing crisis is preventing teachers from securing affordable accommodation in some of the most populated parts of the country and also from securing any accommodation in rural areas where none seems to be available. Often, there seems to be the choice for young teachers of either a long commute or unaffordable accommodation. More common still, there is no choice at all, as the accommodation is simply not available and a long commute is the only option. The cost of living crisis is preventing teachers from being able to afford accommodation even when they can source it, and to struggle with living costs in general, as they cannot afford to live on the starting teacher wage, or to take part-time and short-term positions (the only ones that seem to be being offered to new teachers at the moment). 

As well as low pay to begin with, often there is little room for career progression for the average young teacher. After a period of time working in one school, it is absolutely understandable for a teacher to move by their own accord to another, where it might seem like the grass is greener, with a permanent contract or an increase in hours.

“One of the most important jobs in the country – teaching the future generation of doctors, engineers, lawyers, and academics – is underpaid, unreliable and unforgivingly lacking in promotion prospects.”

With all of these factors taken into consideration, and the additional and mandatory two year master degree necessary on top of a bachelor’s degree to qualify as a teacher, many graduates have opted to pursue a different career path. One of the most important jobs in the country – teaching the future generation of doctors, engineers, lawyers, and academics – is underpaid, unreliable and unforgivingly lacking in promotion prospects.

“…a reported 91% of surveyed schools reporting difficulties in recruitment and 71% claiming they had advertised positions in the past six months to which not a single applicant responded.”

Taking a look at job vacancies online, there seems to be no end of teacher positions available…if you’re qualified for a small set of subjects in the same few areas. As well as this, very few are permanent full-time positions. The majority are fixed-term, part-time and majoritively maternity leave substitutes. Being a teacher has turned from being a stable and reliable government job to being a broken-term, unreliable and unstable position, where depending on your subject you may struggle to keep a job and be forced to move around schools and also homes – not an ideal situation to be in as rent prices rise and accommodation is difficult to find in the first place. There is both a huge teacher shortage and a huge teacher turnover. Temporary jobs are not practical for young teachers working to get their foot in the door of a lifelong career. Moving house to pursue a string of temporary positions is not just a difficult task, but a near impossible task, especially when working with a relatively low salary. Teachers who are desperately on the job search are unable to accept positions as they simply cannot afford to move or reliably commute to the area. Meanwhile, schools are understaffed as they cannot find teachers to fill the positions they are advertising, with a reported 91% of surveyed schools reporting difficulties in recruitment and 71% claiming they had advertised positions in the past six months to which not a single applicant responded.

This shortage naturally has a devastating domino effect for Irish post-primary students, as many in the affected schools are put at a distinct disadvantage. Teacher shortages result in subjects being impossible to offer, or offered at a limited capacity regardless of demand. Mandatory subjects that are understaffed see students suffering again, along with their teachers, as classes are left with either no teacher until a position is filled or refilled, overworked teachers being understandably less prepared for the excess work they have been forced to undertake, or out-of-field teachers picking up classes and attempting to teach subjects that they are not directly familiar with, or that they have not taught in years. In the case of a position seemingly being filled, only for the teacher to be unable to find accommodation or having accepted a better position elsewhere, principals across the country are facing immense stress, pressure and disappointment as positions they believed to be filled are now empty once more. 

Maths was reported to be the most difficult subject to fill positions for, a subject that is mandatory on the curriculum and for which a high grade is needed as a requirement for many third-level courses. Irish followed as the second most difficult subject to recruit for, hinting at a bleak future for our native language as students who may or may not have been a fan previously are now under pressure as they risk falling behind.

The first steps to solving this issue do not have to be ones of much cost. President of TUI, Liz Farrell, stated that the teacher shortage “is something that can be resolved without cost and must be done as a matter of urgency.” Multiple issues have been raised to the Department of Education that are much more approachable than solving the housing or cost of living crisis and when highlighted are evidently issues that were foreseeable and unavoidable in the first place. Practical measures to be taken include teachers being offered full-time positions and longer term contracts. As well as this, it was brought up that teachers in training now must study for a further two years on a post-graduate qualification, costing up to €12,000, when previously the higher diploma took one year to complete. Changes like this would be major incentives for graduate students to pursue teaching as a career, would ease the cost of becoming a teacher and the affordability of being a new teacher and would likely lead to more positions being filled, minimising the stress on Irish teachers and Irish principals in the recruitment process. Of the schools that were surveyed, 77% reported an incident where a teacher who had previously accepted a position rejected it later, after finding another available position that offered more contracted hours. The message is clear: new teachers should be offered full-time contracts. It’s time to take the teacher shortage seriously, before one of the most important roles in the country becomes a job that few can afford to pursue.

Abby Cleaver

Abby Cleaver is the current life editor at Trinity News, having previously served as comment editor, and is a final year English literature and philosophy student.