High number of unqualified primary school teachers halved
THE number of unqualified teachers in primary schools has halved in two years in the drive to regulate standards in the classroom.
The Department of Education has been enforcing a harder line to ensure that all pupils are taught by a properly qualified person.
Parents' and teachers' union leaders pressed for an end to a practice of using unqualified personnel that had become embedded in the system.
The use of unqualified staff was decried as damaging children's education and teacher quality has been identified in research as a major factor in educational outcomes.
A decade ago, as many as 1,600 primary school classes were taught by unqualified staff on a regular basis.
Unqualified staff are more of an issue in primary schools than at second level, largely because of a long-term shortage of qualified primary teachers.
However, teacher supply has been addressed in recent years, through an increase in teacher-training places, such as the online, privately-operated Hibernia post-graduate course.
The big demand for places in teacher training colleges in Ireland leaves many students disappointed and many now also go to the UK to train there, and then return home to work.
In the six months to June, there were 303 unqualified teachers employed in a part-time capacity in primary schools, down from more than 600 two years ago, Education Minister Mary Coughlan revealed in response to a parliamentary question.
In the same six months, the number of days worked by unqualified substitute teachers in primary schools was 58,919 -- down from 111,161 from January to June 2009.
At second level, the number of days worked by unqualified teaching personnel reduced from 45,187 from January to June 2009 to 43,841 from January to June 2010.
The department's tightening up on standards is underpinned by legislation over the past decade that put many aspects of the education system on a statutory footing for the first time.
From this September, all new teachers, at both primary and post primary, will have to be registered with the Teaching Council, to be on the department's payroll.
To be registered with the teaching council, a person must have an appropriate teaching qualification and have been vetted by the gardai.
The department recently issued a circular to schools outlining the new requirements, although exceptions will be allowed if a school cannot find a properly qualified teacher.
Sheila Nunan, general secretary of the Irish National Teachers' Organisation, said: "People without qualifications are not teachers and can only provide supervision for children. Every child as a right to by taught by a properly qualified teacher."
Fine Gael education spokesman Fergus O'Dowd welcomed the figures and said it was very important that priority be given to properly qualified staff.