Teachers: Employment

Education – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:45 pm on 7 June 2011.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Alastair Ross Alastair Ross DUP 2:45, 7 June 2011

4. asked the Minister of Education what plans he has to assist newly qualified teachers in obtaining full-time positions.  (AQO 49/11-15)

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin

I am keen to ensure that newly qualified teachers are afforded every opportunity to obtain full-time positions. The number and type of vacancies for which newly qualified teachers may be eligible to apply is primarily influenced by the decisions made by schools on the basis of the funding they receive under the local management of schools common funding formula arrangements. The decision on whom to appoint to a vacant post is a matter for the board of governors and/or the relevant employing authority in line with current employment legislation.

I am aware that newly qualified teachers gain vital experience providing substitute cover and filling temporary vacancies. However, I am concerned that schools continuing the practice of re-employing prematurely retired teachers are denying newly qualified teachers the opportunity to gain employment in a temporary or substitute capacity. My Department has taken action and plans to take further measures to encourage schools to give preference to newly qualified teachers over prematurely retired ones. That includes proposed amendments to the common funding scheme for the local management of schools, on which consultation closed on May 11.

Photo of Alastair Ross Alastair Ross DUP

One of the many failures of the previous Minister was around the issue of trying to get newly graduated teachers into full-time work. There is an old saying that, if you always do what you have always done, you will always get what you have always got. I am afraid that, listening to the Minister’s answer, we have not heard much new. What new thinking is the new Education Minister bringing to this Department, and what new policies does he plan to bring in to help those newly qualified teachers?

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin

I could bat that one back to you: in your questions and response, I did not hear any new proposals. I sat through many debates in the previous Assembly, where no concrete proposals came forward from any section of the Floor. Indeed, I am more than willing to examine any proposals on the matter that come forward from either side of the House.

The fact of the matter is this: the previous Minister did take action on the issue. She put constraints on how the employing bodies — the boards of governors — should employ newly qualified teachers and, indeed, prematurely retired teachers, and that is having an effect. There was previous mention of an initiative taken in Scotland, and that is under review. It would cost the Executive £12 million to give newly qualified teachers a year’s guaranteed employment. The counter-argument to that is that those teachers will not be on benefits. However, the fact of the matter is that the Executive would not get a return in the benefits system and would lose that £12 million. If we can negotiate a package that ensures that, if we saved money for the Chancellor’s Budget around benefits, they were prepared to give us £12 million, whole new avenues would be opened up.

We are dealing with the budget that we have. The previous Minister took forward initiatives that are showing results. If the Member or anyone else in the House has proposals to present, please feel free to do so.

Photo of Phil Flanagan Phil Flanagan Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. I take this opportunity to congratulate the Minister on his appointment. I wish him all the best for the future, and, as a member of the Education Committee, I look forward to working with him.

I want to pay tribute to a primary 6 pupil from St Columban’s school in Belcoo, who, along with students from Ballinamallard Primary School, visited Parliament Buildings today. We went to a meeting with them, and one of the questions they asked me was what measures were being taken to prohibit or restrict the re-employment of prematurely retired teachers and to encourage the employment of newly elected teachers.

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin

I suspect that you are a pupil of Barry McElduff, who is quick to mention his local constituency and constituents.

Measures have been put in place on the rates of pay available to newly retired teachers and on the responsibility of boards of governors to pick up the difference. The previous Minister set in train a review of locally managed school funding, the equality impact assessment of which ended on 11 May. My Department is reviewing that. When those results become clear, I will report to the Assembly on what, if any, other measures we can take.

Boards of governors are made up of teachers and members of the community who do an excellent job in the majority of cases. As local representatives, we should encourage boards of governors to take a principled stand and to ensure that they use their power to assist newly qualified teachers to obtain employment.

Photo of Trevor Lunn Trevor Lunn Alliance

I wish the Minister well in his new position. Unfortunately, my question is on the same topic of substitute teachers. The Minister said that the previous Minister had been able to place constraints on boards of governors. However, the only constraint of which I am aware is the requirement not to have a level rate of pay, whether that is for a newly qualified teacher or a recently retired one. Does the Minister have any plans to give that policy some teeth so that he can enforce the position that a newly qualified teacher must be preferred to a recently voluntarily retired teacher?

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin

I thank the Member for that question. I understand — I am willing to be corrected — that it would not be legal to discriminate against prematurely retired teachers applying for any post. They are perfectly entitled in law to apply for those posts. We could not put a legal barrier in their way. The constraints on pay are having an effect on how boards of governors view such matters. The debates in the House and the media and public debate on those matters have also had an influence. The review of LMS, which I mentioned to the previous questioner, was completed on 11 May. When its findings have been sifted through, I will report to the Assembly in a more detailed manner on what, if any, further actions we can take.