Too many young teachers are back in their childhood bedrooms — if they are fortunate to have this safety net

Opinion: A severe recruitment crisis must be tackled, along with worsening retention problems

The theme of this year’s Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) annual congress is “recruit, retain, reclaim,” with each of these three words setting out a critical and moral imperative to ensure that students continue to have access to a high-quality education service.

A severe recruitment crisis must be tackled, along with ever-worsening retention problems within the profession. A survey of principals and deputy principals carried out by TUI in October last found that 71 per cent of schools had advertised positions in the previous six months for which no teacher applied, while 61 per cent had unfilled vacancies.

In tandem, the very nature of the profession must be reclaimed from growing bureaucratic duties – we must stop the demoralising drift that sees educators deflected from their core duty of teaching.

As with most other sections of Irish society, the availability and affordability of accommodation is having a massively negative impact on teaching and currently underpins many of its problems. Too many of our students are experiencing extremely stressful situations, while our members often commute significant distances to their workplaces because of the same accommodation shortages. Increasingly often, they are back in their childhood bedrooms, if, of course, they are fortunate enough to have this safety net. Now, significant numbers will be faced with the awful threat of eviction from their rented accommodation. As a result of these problems, some are simply forced to leave the profession, never to return.


However, there are some effective measures that would immediately ease the recruitment and retention crisis in schools. In the first instance, contracts of full hours must be offered to second level teachers upon initial appointment. TUI estimates that a meagre 30 per cent of teachers receive a contract of full hours upon initial appointment. This is completely unsustainable if all classrooms are to continue to have teachers in front of them in the months and years ahead. In the middle of a cost-of-living crisis, nobody should be forced to exist on a mere fraction of a job.

It is hardly surprising that many teachers are migrating to other sectors or industries where they feel properly valued. If we are to retain them, the profession must remain attractive in terms of career structures. In the last recession, cutbacks greatly reduced the numbers of assistant principal positions. These posts help to ensure the smooth running of schools and also provide a pastoral support system for vulnerable students.

In addition to eroding career options, the fall in post numbers has hampered the capacity of schools to react quickly to crisis situations affecting students while greatly adding to the work of already overburdened principals and deputy principals. These posts must be restored to pre-cutback levels. Also, the career average pension scheme introduced for those who commenced after 2013 leads to a reduction in entitlements and is ultimately a further deterrent to the retention of staff.


There will also be a strong focus on curriculum and assessment. We believe that pressure should be alleviated for Leaving Certificate students, and in specific terms, TUI has always been in favour of different appropriate components of assessment, such as orals, aurals, project and portfolio work. The recent shelving of a flawed plan for students to sit Paper 1 of English and Irish in fifth year was a positive development, but if nothing else the saga highlighted the urgent need for real engagement and consultation with the teacher unions. Substance, not spin. Positive change, not ‘early wins’. We make no secret of the fact that we will insist on State certification and external assessment for all elements of State examinations.

We represent over 20,500 teachers, lecturers and other educators across a diverse range of sectors, from Post Primary to Further and Adult Education and Third Level. This wide breadth of experience gives us a unique overview of the dynamics and requirements of the Irish public education system.

In higher education, the ongoing failure to address the funding crisis continues to result in larger class sizes and less student access to laboratories, tutorials, materials and equipment. We have grave concerns over the Government’s commitment to appropriately fund the Technological University (TU) sector, and we still await the delivery of a satisfactory mechanism to include Dundalk IT and IADT – the two remaining institutes of technology – within existing TU projects.

Adult education

Much lip service is paid by Government to the concept of lifelong learning. Hypocritically, despite a Labour Court recommendation in 2020, the adult education tutors who provide such a vital and excellent service to adult learners are still awaiting the offer of an incremental salary scale. We once again demand that this be resolved.

The various issues above should be put in the context of the latest OECD indicators which show that of the 33 countries for which figures are given, none spend a lower proportion of national wealth on education than Ireland, resulting in larger class sizes and education facilities which are often unsuited to modern teaching and learning. Students from disadvantaged backgrounds ultimately suffer the most from inadequate education budgets, so the continued refusal to invest appropriately will only widen inequalities in Irish society.

We will be respectful to Minister Norma Foley and Minister Simon Harris when they address our delegates, and in our responses, we look forward to outlining what is working well in the system and what is not, and what we expect from them. Now more than ever, they must work with us to recruit and retain teachers and lecturers and reclaim the profession.

Liz Farrell is president of the Teachers’ Union of Ireland. The TUI’s annual congress takes place in Cork between Tuesday 11th and Thursday 13th April