THE NUMBER of Irish teachers flocking to work in Britain has doubled over the past three years, The Irish Post has learned.
Teachers' unions in Ireland have branded the situation as 'extremely distressing' as British recruitment agencies are setting up Irish offices to entice more graduates to take up offers of work here and flee the culture of unemployment and temporary work that is hitting young teachers hard.
Engage Education, a London recruitment company, revealed it is now placing twice as many qualified teachers in British schools as it was four years ago. Since 2009, the company, which is just one of several agencies in the market, has helped 300 Irish teachers to find full-time jobs in Britain and provided a further 100 with guaranteed supply work contracts.
"This September we expect our annual recruitments to triple to 250. The demand has been so significant that we have now opened a Dublin office," said Paul Glanville, Engage Education's Britain and Ireland Resource Manager.
"I have personally found that it takes most Irish teachers a year or two of searching for work in Ireland for them to conclude that there really is nothing suitable available. They all want to stay in Ireland and work there, but the reality has gradually kicked in. Many more experienced and newly qualified teachers are choosing to come to Britain in order to complete their induction periods and become fully qualified."
The picture being painted in Ireland is bleak. A recent national newspaper report claimed one Dublin primary school seeking two substitute teachers to cover for maternity leave vacancies received over 400 applications.
The four major British recruitment companies contacted by The Irish Post all said there has been a significant increase in the number of teachers from Ireland using their services to find work here. They all added that the demand is particularly strong among those who are newly qualified.
"We have recruited a large number of teachers from Ireland into schools across the south east of England over the past five years," said Sian Beytell, a Director with REd Teachers. "Teachers from Ireland often opt to take full-time posts in England rather than the few hours they are able to secure at home and REd will be recruiting at Irish universities again over the next few months."
Moira Leydon, Assistant General Secretary at ASTI - Ireland's largest secondary teachers union - says that today the vast majority of stands at the teaching employment fairs hosted by Irish universities are from Britain.
"Teachers are going abroad in their droves," she said. "Having attended several Education Career Day events with ASTI, I can accurately say that 90 per cent of the stands at these events are from the UK. Unfortunately, most newly qualified teachers are likely to consider emigration. It's an extremely distressing situation.
“The problem for these highly motivated young people is that they are coming out (of university) and simply finding that there are no jobs for them."
Ms Leydon says that the unemployment and underemployment of Irish teachers is a complex problem.
Unlike every other area of Ireland’s public sector, education posts can still be filled if a teacher retires, leaves a job because of long-term illness or goes on maternity leave. The Department of Education and Skills is also creating new posts as the population grows and has announced plans to build 40 new schools from this year.
But the current situation faced by teachers has been worsened by the Government’s decision to reduce the number of employment posts in education. The 2009 Budget increased the pupil-to-teacher ratio at second level from 18:1 to 19:1 and following the 2011 Budget, guidance counsellors are now included in that quota.
Under the Croke Park Agreement, the landmark deal between the Government and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions in 2010, the public sector has been spared from redundancies. But the Agreement, which was stuck as Dublin tried to get on top of its beleaguered finances, also requires surplus public servants to be redeployed to new vacancies when they become available.
As a result, new education posts are increasingly filled by teachers redeployed from another school that has staff in excess of its quota, leaving fewer and fewer jobs for new entrants.
Over-supply is also a significant problem. Last September, Education Minister Ruairí Quinn backed an expert report that cited Ireland’s ‘surprising and concerning’ failure to address the issue of teacher supply and demand and recommended a series of mergers to turn the country’s 19 teacher training universities into just six.
The lack of demand bears out differently for primary and for secondary level teachers. For the 1,800 newly qualified primary school teachers who compete for 600 jobs each year, unemployment is a significant problem.
Sheila Nunan, the General Secretary of INTO – Ireland’s largest primary level union – said: "Teacher unemployment is the single biggest challenge facing primary teachers in Ireland. There are hundreds of fully qualified teachers unable to get work at present. This is the inevitable result of Government cuts to school staffing and as a result, qualified teachers are being forced into emigration."
Meanwhile, Ms Leydon says the majority of secondary school teachers are forced into a culture of supply work temporary contracts and may have to wait years for their first full-time post.
A 2011 ASTI survey revealed one-in-10 graduates said they would not even consider trying to find their first teaching job in Ireland and only six per cent of those who intended to seek work in Ireland believed that they would be able to secure a full-time post.
To those newly qualified Irish teachers who doubt they will find the work they are looking for, the message from recruitment agencies here in Britain is clear.
"We get a lot of anecdotal evidence that teachers cannot get jobs in Ireland,” said Tish Seabourne, Managing Director at TimePlan. “But if 100 maths and science and English teachers from Ireland wandered through our door tomorrow, they could walk into a job over here. The same is true for primary teachers."
Paul Matthias, a Director at Hays Education, added: "We have seen the number of teachers from Ireland and Northern Ireland double in the past year. And we've been actively recruiting Irish teachers for UK schools by holding open days in Belfast and Dublin."
AS the number of Irish teachers flocking to work in Britain doubles, The Irish Post talks to teachers with first hand experience of the difficulties faced by newly qualified teachers in Ireland.