Sunday 21 July 2019

New education minister 'wants to explore use of Skype interviews' to bring teachers back from abroad

Joe McHugh
Joe McHugh
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

Newly-appointed education minister Joe McHugh wants to explore the use of Skype interviews to help bring teachers back from abroad to fill staff shortages in Irish schools.

Mr McHugh made the comments in his first meeting with Department of Education officials. He had asked them to look at ways of attracting Irish-trained teachers, working in places like Dubai, home.

He also threw out the idea to more than 500 principals and deputy principals of second-level schools, when he addressed the annual conference of the National Association of Principals and deputy Principals (NAPD).

A shortage of teachers in key subjects was described this week as "the biggest crisis" affecting second-level schools at the moment.

Many schools did not open with a full complement of staff in September, and it was driving pupils to grind schools, NADP president Mary Keane told the conference.

Mr McHugh said there were thousands of Irish teachers in the United Arab Emirates – he was once on of them – and he knew from a previous role as minister for the diaspora that many of them wanted to return home.

"But, if you are a teaching n Dubai today and a post is advertised and mammy or daddy rings to say a post is coming up, the decision you have to make is about paying for a flight home with no guarantees that you are going to get a job," he said.

Mr McHugh said "there are many innovative ways of reaching out to the diaspora" and the State had a role, through the Department of Foreign Affairs, to "facilitate people in a better way".

Questioned by reporters about specific ways to achieve it, Mr McHugh said "the whole idea of an idea is to explore it".

He said wanted to look at creative ways to make it easier for teachers working abroad to be interviewed, possibly via Skype.

The NAPD conference was Mr McHugh’s first opportunity in his new role to speak directly to those at the coalface of  education and he used it as an opportunity to send out a strong message that the pace of change in the system would slow down.

His words were well-received by NAPD delegates, whose president Mary Keane had earlier warned that "in the last year in particular we are feeling the grievous burden of initiative overload and deadline mania". 

She referred to reforms, such as at junior cycle, as well as new responsibilities on schools in relation to data protection.

Ms Keane committed the NAPD to change, but said "we must be careful that we reach our destination together".

Mr McHugh acknowledged the work done by his predecessor Richard Bruton, who set out an Action Plan for Education, and another previous incumbent, Ruairi Quinn,  who also drove an ambitious agenda, but said he was "hearing loud and clear" that people needed to have "freedom and time" to implement change.

The minister said it was not his intention to stop the action plan, because he believed in strategy, "but to stop, take stock, where we at are, what is working, what is not working and how we can fit it into three years."

He also pledged that there would be earlier allocations of grants to schools for small and medium-scale building and improvement schemes as  the Summer Works Scheme, to facilitate planning at school level.

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