Tuesday 21 November 2017

Teacher watchdog fails to set up urgent probe into maths crisis

Louise Hogan and Breda Heffernan

THE teaching watchdog has no plans to carry out an urgent probe into the number of unqualified maths teachers in second-level schools.

This is in spite of the admission by the Teaching Council's chief executive yesterday that such a move would be a "very simple exercise" that could begin within days.

Despite the urgent need to tackle the maths crisis, the council, which regulates the teaching profession, said it had no plans to contact schools immediately to establish exactly how many unqualified teachers were teaching maths.

A Teaching Council spokeswoman told the Irish Independent: "Getting the numbers alone will not solve the problem."

The council's stance will concern parents, especially as its chief executive Aine Lawlor earlier admitted on RTE radio that the body could start gathering the information within days if it wanted to.

The lack of urgency means Education Minister Ruairi Quinn will be without vital figures outlining the full scale of the maths teacher crisis for months to come.


The Teaching Council instead plans to commission a more wide-ranging survey on teacher supply for every subject, including maths.

The council was initially asked to do this by Mr Quinn last April -- but the work has yet to begin.

Ms Lawlor yesterday admitted there had been a high level of awareness of the problems with maths and the low number of qualified teachers for at least the past 18 months.

However, her spokeswoman said last night that "getting the numbers alone will not solve the problem".

"Our focus is very much on finding solutions to what have already been identified as issues," she added.

The most recent research on the number of unqualified maths teachers was carried out some two years ago and only covered 51 of the country's 730 second-level schools.

Among its stark findings were that almost half of maths teachers did not have a maths qualification.

It is unclear what the current situation is. However, it is feared that a surge in teacher retirements in the past two years has meant schools have lost even more qualified maths teachers.

Mr Quinn made a suggestion to the council in April that it "might wish to advise the department" in relation to teacher supply of all subjects as part of work it was carrying out on the future education of teachers.

Last night it was unclear if Mr Quinn would look for the probe to be carried out as a matter of urgency. Mr Quinn's spokesperson failed to respond to the Irish Independent.

The scope of the research has also yet to be identified and it is not known if all schools will be contacted individually.

The research will be outsourced by the council and it also does not know what the final cost will be or when it will be completed.

The teaching watchdog also admitted it did not know if all of the 4,083 qualified maths teachers -- out of more than 71,000 on its register -- were actually still working in schools or if they were retired.

The council's 37 members, which include teachers, trade union representatives and department officials, are all voluntary but receive expenses that amounted to €110,035 in 2010.

Irish Independent

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