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Investing in the Teaching Workforce

Oral Answers to Questions — Education – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:45 pm on 19th January 2016.

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Photo of Claire Hanna Claire Hanna Social Democratic and Labour Party 2:45 pm, 19th January 2016

3. Ms Hanna asked the Minister of Education for his assessment of how the Investing in the Teaching Workforce scheme will impact on those teachers who graduated before 2013-14, including their ability to obtain a permanent post. (AQO 9422/11-16)

Photo of Alastair Ross Alastair Ross DUP

4. Mr Ross asked the Minister of Education how many new teaching opportunities he plans to create through the Investing in the Teaching Workforce scheme. (AQO 9423/11-16)

Photo of Robin Swann Robin Swann UUP

7. Mr Swann asked the Minister of Education how many teaching positions will become available through the Investing in the Teaching Workforce scheme. (AQO 9426/11-16)

Photo of Trevor Lunn Trevor Lunn Alliance

8. Mr Lunn asked the Minister of Education, in relation to the Investing in the Teaching Workforce scheme, whether he plans to extend the criteria for newly qualified teachers beyond the proposed limit of three years since completion of training. (AQO 9427/11-16)

Photo of Adrian McQuillan Adrian McQuillan DUP

10. Mr McQuillan asked the Minister of Education when he will introduce a scheme to allow teachers over 55 years of age to retire early. (AQO 9429/11-16)

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

With your permission, Mr Deputy Speaker, I will answer questions 3, 4, 7, 8 and 10 together.

The Investing in the Teaching Workforce Scheme is under development in collaboration with the teaching unions and employers, and criteria for the scheme are still to be finalised. It is intended that it will be launched in early spring 2016 after all options have been explored. All relevant criteria will be published at that stage.

While I acknowledge that some disappointment has been expressed about the proposed parameters of the scheme, it must be remembered that it will have the potential to provide up to 500 permanent teaching posts for recently qualified teachers and up to 500 teachers will be able to retire early. In the absence of the scheme, neither will happen.

Photo of Claire Hanna Claire Hanna Social Democratic and Labour Party

I thank the Minister for his answer. The scheme has caused upset. I do not think that we can consider them new posts; they are obviously just replacement posts. The scheme will not create new employment.

After 10 years of the Minister's party holding the education portfolio, will he comment on whether young teachers in training or those who are considering teacher training have been told that they should not expect a job in the field? Can he give any advice on what work they should hope to get after their qualifications have been achieved?

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

I thank the Member for her question. They are new jobs. Those jobs would not come online for perhaps five or 10 years. No other Department has been able to introduce a scheme to release 500 jobs on to the market in the next financial year. No private investor, foreign or domestic, has been able to produce 500 jobs in the next financial year. Yet, parties inside and outside the Chamber are manipulating the genuine concerns of some teachers on the matter and have acted irresponsibly in the hope of advancing individual and party political careers.

I am on record as saying that I cannot and will not give advice to individuals on what career choice they should make. That said, anyone taking up a career in teaching should carefully consider all the issues, including whether they will be able to obtain full-time employment at the end of their training period. I think that that is a sensible thing for a Minister to say. The career choice that people make is a matter for them. There is a wide range of options available. All I am doing is putting down a marker by saying to young, or not-so-young, people that they should consider all the options going forward. I know that, if this scheme goes ahead, 500 more newly qualified teachers will get a job this year than would have been the case. If the scheme does not go ahead, 500 newly qualified teachers will not get a job, and 500 teachers over the age of 55 will not retire early. I have been proactive in trying to assist newly qualified teachers in obtaining employment. I am also respecting the wishes of individuals who are close to retirement, and who wish to retire, by allowing them to do so in order to revitalise and refresh our teaching workforce.

Photo of Alastair Ross Alastair Ross DUP

I understand why the Minister is attracted to a scheme to help newly qualified teachers to find permanent work, but he will be aware of a number of concerns about the proposals. Has he taken advice on the equality issues with such a scheme? If so, has that led him to reconsider any aspect of it?

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

My officials have met the Equality Commission, I have received written advice from the Equality Commission, and all those matters are under careful consideration. I have also received legal advice on the matter, and that is also under careful consideration. All those factors are playing into the decision-making process.

The term "discriminatory" has been used, and perhaps understandably so, but it is being used in such a way as to suggest that I am in breach of not only the letter of equality and employment legislation but of the spirit of that legislation. I am confident that I am not. I am confident that proactively targeting a group of newly qualified teachers, who have the greatest difficulty in finding employment, is not in breach of equality or employment legislation. It is not in breach of the letter or the spirit of the law. It has to be remembered that the group of teachers finding it most difficult to get employment are those who qualified most recently, in the last number of years. I have not yet set the number of years, but I am looking at it very carefully. I am also looking to ensure that the criteria are lawful and in line with equality legislation.

Photo of Robin Swann Robin Swann UUP

This seems to have been brought about because of too many students graduating from our teacher training colleges. Has he reduced the number of places in 2016-17 at Stranmillis University College, St Mary's University College and other providers to try to address the imbalance?

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

I do not see this question being answered by closing our teacher training colleges.

Photo of Robin Swann Robin Swann UUP

That is not what I said.

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

In fairness, that is what you are saying, because, if we further reduce the number of trainee teachers, we are, by default, closing our teacher training colleges. That is a fact.

I am not directly referring to the Member, but I think that it is somewhat unfair for those who call for equality in employment legislation and equality of opportunity to have said in recent days, "We have trained too many teachers. Close one or both colleges". What that really says to me is this: "I have my qualifications, I have my opportunity in life, and I have my teaching degree — everybody else can go".

Photo of Chris Lyttle Chris Lyttle Alliance

No one said that.

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

There were a number of comments from the Floor. If Members wish to check articles on various social media sites, they will find that that is exactly what has been said. It has been said in the broadcast media as well and in correspondence to me. There are those who call for the closure of our teacher training colleges. Do we train too many teachers? In 2004-5, we trained 880. We have reduced that number by over 30% and now train in and around 500. We are reducing the intake of our teacher training colleges — we train 580 teachers.

We can control the flow of student teachers into our local teacher training colleges, but we cannot control the number of students who go to England, Wales, Scotland or the South of Ireland to train as teachers and then arrive back here to register with the General Teaching Council and seek employment as teachers. We cannot control that. We can close our teacher training colleges and advise all our young people who want to train as teachers to go to England, Scotland, Wales or the South of Ireland, but we will lose the economic driver, which is the teacher training colleges, and the opportunities that those teacher training colleges give us to train teachers in our curriculum needs.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

I call Trevor Lunn, and I remind the Minister of the two-minute rule.

Photo of Trevor Lunn Trevor Lunn Alliance

I am absolutely astonished by the Minister's assertion that to replace 500 existing jobs with 500 replacement teachers equates to 500 new jobs. That is his arithmetic here. The number of teachers being trained seems to be a big issue today. Why does he not use the numbers determined by his own teacher demand model — the model that is used by his Department — and stop this nonsense of training far too many teachers?

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

Whatever arithmetic you look at, the optimum output of the scheme is that 500 older teachers will leave their posts five to 10 years earlier than they would have previously. Five hundred recently qualified teachers will have employment opportunities that they did not have.

Photo of Trevor Lunn Trevor Lunn Alliance

They are not new jobs.

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

They are new jobs and new opportunities. They refresh the teacher workforce and target a group of teachers who are finding the most difficulty in gaining employment in our society. They are new jobs. I could use the voluntary exit scheme, which is funding this proposal, to pay off 500 teachers and not replace their jobs because the education budget — a question will be asked about this later — is under severe pressure. Severe challenges exist in the education budget, but what I have achieved, in cooperation with the Department of Finance and Personnel and the Executive, which voted on the funding of this scheme, is the use of the voluntary exit scheme in an imaginative and different way in order to create employment where it might otherwise have been lost. You can describe it in any way, but, in my book, they are new jobs, and I believe that those who fill those posts will see them as new jobs.

The teachers who retire early will be very glad to be vacating their posts and allowing other teachers into them. For the reasons that I outlined to Mr Swann, I do not agree with the idea that it is nonsense to train teachers. Those who are proposing the closure of our teacher training colleges need to look beyond the end of their noses. It is quite clear that, despite even what I said earlier in relation to employment prospects, many of your young people want to train as teachers. They will leave these shores and go elsewhere, but many of them will come back here and still seek employment as teachers.

Photo of Adrian McQuillan Adrian McQuillan DUP

I thank the Minister for his answers so far. How does he prevent teachers who avail themselves of this scheme at the age of 55 from going back in again and subbing, blocking up the system from the other end?

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

Over the last number of years, because of changes that we have made in how retired substitute teachers are paid, and the guidance that we have issued to boards of governors, we have seen a dramatic reduction in the number of retired teachers coming back into the system as substitute teachers, because it is financially not viable for them to do so. The guidance that we have issued to boards of governors encourages them to seek newly qualified teachers to act as substitute teachers, rather than going back to retired teachers. It may be that, in some subject areas, it may be beneficial for a school to use a retired teacher, and schools will use them in those circumstances, but the changes to the way in which substitute teachers who have retired are paid and the guidance that we have issued to boards of governors have meant that there has been a dramatic reduction in the number of retired teachers returning to substitute teacher cover.

Photo of Jim Allister Jim Allister Traditional Unionist Voice

Surely the Minister can see that the intended bias towards recently qualified teachers — those who have qualified in the last three years — will have the impact of discriminating against experienced teachers who have not yet found a permanent post. It amounts to writing off those teachers with more experience and those, perhaps, at a stage of life with more responsibilities, who need a job even more. Surely the Minister needs to review that situation and ensure that replacement teachers come from that quota of teachers who have not found permanent jobs, rather than discriminating within that quota.

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin 3:00 pm, 19th January 2016

Mr Allister knows fine well the language he uses in talking about discrimination. The question that needs to be asked, Mr Allister — you should know this fine well as a barrister — is this: is the discrimination legal? Is it acceptable and legal under the terms of employment legislation and the Equality Act? That is the question, and I am sure that you have asked yourself this question —

Photo of Jim Allister Jim Allister Traditional Unionist Voice

You are admitting it is discrimination.

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

I am sure you have asked yourself this question, and the fact that you are not standing in the corner lambasting me for acting illegally, proves to me at least — me, a mere mortal —

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

— me, a mere mortal — that you have analysed this, and you have come to the opinion that the Minister is acting both legally and within the terms and conditions of the Equality Act

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

Order, order. I remind Members that remarks should not be made from a sedentary position. Minister continue.

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

Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I am acting in the letter of the law of equality legislation and employment legislation. The current system discriminates against newly qualified teachers. Those teachers who have qualified in the last three or four years are the cohort that finds it most difficult to find employment in the teaching profession. There is clearly an argument that they are being discriminated against. When the shortlisting takes place in schools and they seek teaching experience over a three- or four-year period, that cohort of newly qualified teachers are discriminated against legally, but they find it most difficult to find employment. The scheme that I propose gives those teachers an opportunity to apply for posts. There will still be approximately 500 other posts that come on stream every year for all teachers to apply for, and I wish them all success in doing so. At the end of the day, whether it is the newly qualified teachers scheme or the other teaching posts, it is up to the board of governors to make that offer of employment.