In Ireland there are currently 29,000 teaching positions at Second Level, yet according to the latest Annual Statistics Report by the Department of Education there are 41,840 Second Level teachers registered with the Teaching Council of Ireland. Approximately 30% of all registered teachers have no hope of having a career within the profession. Their only option is to change profession or emigrate.
In Ireland there is still very much a tradition at Second Level for students who do not show a clear aptitude in STEM subjects to be shoehorned into completing an Arts Degree at university by teachers or guidance counsellors. For those students who have not figured out what career they would like to pursue they too are pushed down the Arts path. The logic is that bright students will figure it out as they go and the broad choice offered by an Arts Degree will allow them to find an area of interest to follow. The stark reality is that in the final year of an Arts Degree Irish students are very much aware that not only is an Arts Degree not very broad (they specialise in two subjects) but, more importantly, on its own it stands for very little when they venture out into the world looking for employment. Final year students quickly realise that they must add a more concrete, specialised qualification in order to have any chance of employment, be it further studies at M.A. and PhD level or a postgraduate diploma. These represent a significant investment of time and money on the part of the student and they undertake these in the expectation that there will be employment on the other end of their investment.
For decades the go-to saviour of an Arts Degree for so many has been a teaching certificate (Postgraduate Diploma in Education) and there was a demand there to meet the numbers of new teachers being churned out by third-level institutions and many dedicated, knowledgeable and earnest young people who had been let down by their teachers and guidance counsellors but navigated the uncertainties of an Arts Degree now had security and a chance to pursue a fulfilling career. That hope no longer exists and this newest betrayal is worse still. At the time of writing there is not a single full-time permanent teaching position being advertised on any major recruitment website in the entire country. And even though there is no hope of achieving a career in Ireland for the vast majority of newly-qualified teachers universities are taking significant amounts of money from these young people and their families. This is not entirely the fault of universities; rather pressure is put on them to reduce their dependence on public funding. However, the truth remains, universities are taking money from students to train them for jobs that do not exist. That is immoral.
For those students who have made it past lazy career counselling at second level, completed an Arts degree knowing its limited practical value and then invested in a teaching certificate that provides equally little return, the choice is stark: admit that your efforts were wasted (while education in and of itself is never a waste that is a hard position for a young person with no job and limited prospects to accept) or emigrate. Of those who make the difficult decision to emigrate, and that is literally hundreds of Irish teachers each year, many do so because despite the shameful and immoral way in which they have been treated in Ireland they still believe that if they do an apprenticeship in Britain they will eventually return home to a good teaching position or a leadership role in a school that will value their international experience.
Thus the final act of betrayal is that for those motivated, positive ones who go abroad with dreams of returning to Ireland in the future they are soon forced to accept that as universities continue to churn out a massive surplus of teachers each year and as employment websites continue to advertise maternity cover and part-time contracts only there is nothing to come home to. The longer these talented Irish people are abroad, gaining vital teaching experience, getting promoted, getting on with life, the less likely it is that they will ever return. Even those who carefully tend to their careers and apply for leadership positions in Irish schools are told that these positions require “experience of the Irish system”. When these positions do (rarely) come up they are often filled internally. It is at that point that these young people realise that they have not only been forced out of Ireland but that they are now locked out.
The point is that there needs to be a significant overhaul of teacher education programmes in Ireland. There needs to be closer attention given to supply and demand of teachers at all levels, with quotas implemented and constantly revised. Importantly, it is immoral for universities to profit from naïve and unwilling future emigrants. Change needs to come in concert with real commitment from any government to invest public funds wisely in third level education. Universities should not be put in a position where they are forced to financially exploit their students. However, to tackle the issue at its most basic level it is time that every school in the country employed a qualified career guidance counsellor who is interested in and capable of steering students into suitable areas of study while making them aware of the risks involved in their chosen path. To facilitate this, university education departments should offer specialisation in career guidance in their PGDE courses instead of producing more surpluses in already crowded fields. The Department of Education should make provision for the establishment of such a position in every second level school nationwide.
With a functioning career guidance system in every school in the country not only would Ireland be able to retain many of its brightest young people but it would be possible to find young Irish people to fill the voids in large areas of the workforce, notably IT and Medical research, which are, in the current time of massive brain-drain, heavily reliant on immigration.