Cuts blamed as top students turn away from teaching career
A dramatic fall in interest in teaching as a career has raised fears that education cuts are turning top students away from the job.
Demand for teaching courses in the CAO is down 11pc since 2008, sparking concern that it will translate into lower calibre students entering the profession.
New teachers have suffered even bigger pay cuts than other public servants in recent years, while job opportunities are shrinking.
Growing worries about the quality of entrants to teaching has prompted Education Minister Ruairi Quinn into action to minimise the latest threat to their pay.
Mr Quinn told the Irish Independent: "We are fighting a battle. I have made the case very strongly to Brendan Howlin."
This is a reference to the review of allowances paid to public servants being undertaken by the Public Expenditure Minister, with a view to cutting €75m off the €1.5bn bill this year.
The €4,426-a-year qualifications allowance paid to top up teachers' starting salaries of €27,814 has been a particular focus of the review
Mr Quinn said that well motivated teachers were key to the education system.
He noted that three key members of the Cabinet, Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Finance Minister Michael Noonan and Mr Howlin, were all former primary teachers.
The threat to teacher allowances will be one of the major talking points at their union conferences this week.
The Teaching Council, the standards watchdog for the profession, recently wrote to Mr Quinn about the dangers of interfering with the qualifications allowance and the need to continue to attract high-calibre entrants to the profession.
An analysis of CAO applications by the Higher Education Authority shows that teaching was the first choice of 3,189 CAO honours degree applicants this year, down from 3,716 in 2008.
Conversely, there is a big swing to science and computing courses, clearly on the advice that jobs will be there for those graduates.
While HEA figures relate more to primary teacher training, there is also concern about second-level teachers.
Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland general secretary Pat King said young teachers faced eight to 10 years working in temporary and part-time positions and more than half of those under 30 were on temporary contracts of one year or less.
"As it becomes more apparent to young people that teaching is a precarious career, more and more of them will consider other options. It is essential that we halt this trend before the consequences become irreversible," he said.
Teachers' Union of Ireland general secretary John Mac Gabhann said there was a growing fear that creeping casualisation would work against attracting the best young talent to the profession.
"Clearly, this is damaging for the profession, damaging for students and damaging for our future society," he said.