EDUCATION Minister Batt O'Keeffe has dashed the dreams of hundreds of jobless graduates who were hoping to become primary school teachers.
Mr O'Keeffe slashed the number of places on a popular postgraduate programme that qualified people from any discipline to teach in primary schools.
The graduate scheme was introduced in 1995 and the annual intake for the past two years to the colleges of education was 490, but the enrolment in February will be cut down to 200.
The scheme is run separately from the three-year Bachelor of Education programme, which has taken in 1,000 school leavers annually over the past few years. It's not yet known how many places will be available on this undergraduate programme next year.
Last night, the Irish National Teachers' Organisation (INTO) expressed grave concerns about the cuts.
The union said the revised Programme for Government contained a commitment to maintaining the current pupil- teacher ratio.
"Because the pupil population is set to rise over the coming years, this will mean more teachers will be needed," incoming INTO general secretary Sheila Nunan said.
Cutting the number of teachers due to come on stream in 2011 did not send a signal that Government intended to honour the commitment in the programme, she said.
"For many years primary schools had untrained personnel in charge of classes because the Government got teacher supply wrong," she added.
She said the union was determined that mismanagement on such a scale would not re-occur.
"The Government is on notice that from 2013, INTO members will not work alongside untrained personnel in any teaching capacity in primary schools. This means that the Government needs more, not fewer, teachers," she said.
She called on Mr O'Keeffe to immediately reverse the decision.
A spokesman for Batt O'Keeffe said the 200 places will be distributed as follows: St Patrick's College, Drumcondra, Dublin: 60; Mary Immaculate College, Limerick: 60; Colaiste Mhuire, Marino, Dublin: 50; and Froebel College of Education, Blackrock, Dublin: 30.
"The postgraduate courses show that we continue to value different routes into the teaching profession and that choice of access remains an important consideration," he added.