Teaching course is spared in cutbacks
THE Government is not cutting back on the number of postgraduate places for primary teacher training, the Irish Independent has learnt.
Education Minister Mary Coughlan has given the go-ahead for 200 places on an annual postgraduate course, which starts in February.
The Postgraduate Diploma in Education (PGDE) allows graduates from different disciplines to study for a further 18 months to become primary school teachers.
Education circles had been rife with fears that the current climate would have meant a reduction in the number of places available. Instead the go-ahead for the diploma is being taken as a signal that education may be spared the worst in the Budget.
The Irish National Teachers' Organisation (INTO) welcomed the announcement, saying the move would calm fears.
An increase in the pupil-teacher ratio (PTR) in primary schools, which would mean fewer teachers, has been under discussion ahead of the Budget.
Any deterioration in PTR would mean reneging on a commitment given in the revised Programme for Government.
INTO general secretary Sheila Nunan said it sent a signal that the Government intended to honour the commitment on PTR in the Programme for Government.
The PGDE is separate from the traditional four-year BEd, on which there are 1,000 places every year.
Meanwhile, the private, Hibernia College online primary teaching course expects to have an intake of about 350 on its postgraduate programme, starting in February. The figure is in line with current numbers.
Dr Nicholas Breakwell, vice-president for academic affairs at Hibernia, said: "The demand for places on our higher diploma course is as strong as ever."
At its height, in 2008 and 2009, the number of places approved by the Department of Education for the postgraduate course in the colleges of education rose to 490.
But that was reduced to 200 for 2010 as part of budgetary cutbacks. There is relief that it has held at that level for 2011.
Pupil numbers at primary level are expected to increase by about 10,000 a year for the next number of years, and more teachers are required for those pupils.
But if the Government changed the PTR so that classes were bigger it would impact on teacher numbers.
The INTO is also seeking to ensure that untrained personnel do not take the place of teachers in primary schools.
Although the improved supply of teachers in recent years has led to a sharp reduction in the number of untrained staff in classrooms, the INTO insists the system must be rid of them entirely.
There are an estimated 800 recently qualified primary teachers without regular work and the union says they must be given priority.
"The Government is on notice that from 2013 INTO members will not work alongside untrained personnel deployed in any teaching capacity in primary schools. This means that the Government needs additional teachers," Ms Nunan said.