Having been a second-level teacher for 36 years, I can testify to how worthwhile, rewarding and enjoyable a career it is. It is important to acknowledge that nobody goes into teaching to make a fortune but there are compensations, benefits and many positives. There is no doubt the teaching profession has been affected by the FEMPI legislation and that there is a direct link between it and the current shortages. This is about the inequality between teachers and those who have suffered six years of pay inequality and discrimination. We have all seen the figures. At this stage, a teacher who graduated in 2012 has lost €28,000 in salary. From my experience of teaching, I know that there is an element of things coming around in cycles. I remember a time when graduates got considerably more pay by going into private industry than would have been the case had they taken up teaching. The position now is similar because other careers are more lucrative than teaching. It is disappointing to hear people giving up teaching because of this. The profession lost many good, experienced teachers due to the pressure some years ago for them to retire because unless they retired by a certain time their pensions would be affected. There was a concerted effort to get rid of those teachers who were being paid at the higher end of the scale. So much was lost in that particular exodus…
“Dublin will suffer because of the cost of renting and buying property here.”
There is another cycle. Some years ago, schools were no longer allowed to take on retired teachers. I can understood that move because its purpose was to give an opportunity to newly qualified teachers. We need to look at it now because of the shortages. Some of those retired teachers retired before they wanted to. They could be of great benefit to schools that are having difficulties getting substitute cover. The profession lost many good, experienced teachers due to the pressure some years ago for them to retire because unless they retired by a certain time their pensions would be affected. There was a concerted effort to get rid of those teachers who were being paid at the higher end of the scale. So much was lost in that particular exodus. It is opportune that we are having the discussion. I brought up my personal experience with the Minister some months ago. The Minister has outlined the statistics, the new teachers and the filling of posts, but I presented a reality which I, as chairperson of a board of management of a primary school, faced the past few months. We are still facing it. It is the result of career breaks for various reasons. There were a number of vacancies in the school and, having spent a full day interviewing in one month, another half day interviewing, and a further two to three hours interviewing, the posts were still not all filled so we had to resort to unqualified teachers. I had a difficulty with the five days because a class could then have a different teacher every five days. If a substitute cannot be found, a class is split – pupils will not be learning their own curriculum as a result – or support staff are taken from their work. Boards of management could benefit from guidance around the whole issue of career breaks. Schools cannot sustain a considerable number of career breaks in situations where half, if not more, of the staff are on a career break. Some of these career breaks happen because staff want to go to the Middle East because they will earn more money there. It also affects the staff.
I graduated in the days of the one-year HDip. We can all agree there were many limitations to it but we all survived into many years of good-quality teaching. We have gone to the other extreme now with the two-year course. It is costly and two years is a long time. It means it takes six years to train to be a teacher. The Teaching Council could be more proactive because it has all the statistics; it knows the numbers that are graduating. It knows the qualifications and the subjects. They could be more proactive by indicating shortages beforehand so they can be prepared for. They could also speed up registering, particularly retired teachers who did not realise they could come back to teaching and teachers who retired but who come from a time when there was no Teaching Council and who did not have to register in the first instance. I have come across teachers who have experienced long delays with the Teaching Council. It is extremely rigid and there seems to be no leeway.
I will leave it at that. There are other things I would like to have brought up but I am sharing time with Deputy Broughan.