Soapbox: Why O’Dowd’s ‘Newly Qualified Teachers Scheme’ is justified…

Hugh Brown is Derry based reader, who argues there is huge benefit in John O’Dowd’s plan to take 500 teachers out of the system to make room for 500 new ones. 

“You’ll always get a job if you’re a teacher!” Was a watchword many years ago. Not now. Back then it ensured a pension. It ensured job security; but society has changed rapidly and it continues apace.

For over 20 years students have come through the North’s first class education system to become teachers; with many of them today still working within the system. But is it time for them to move on?

There has been unease over Education Minister John O’ Dowds proposed move to take 500 teachers out of the education sphere, and replace them with 500 newly qualified teachers – without job losses.

Eligibility for voluntary redundancy is restrict to those aged over 55 – of which there are approximately 2350 – who effectively retire will have full access to pensions.

To do this Mr O’Dowd will access money set aside under the Voluntary Exit Scheme courtesy of a change to the original system in which monies would only become available if the post was closed.

Mr O’Dowd’s proposal is backed by the teachers union, and will ensure that the teaching workforce is refreshed over two years and in the process will create the job space for 1000 new teachers.

£47 million has been allocated to the Department of Education for the teachers severance scheme in the 2016/17 budget and £14 million of this is to be spent on voluntary redundancy, and £33 million to instate new teachers.

Drawing down this money with the Tory Government attacking public services, was a shrewd move as the Department of Education has been hit financially and needs to restructure to protect front-line services, and what is more front-line than our teachers?

The idea of zero job losses appeals to many, and the fact that 1000 newly qualified teachers, with new skills are taking over the posts can only be welcomed – but not by all.

The opponents of the Newly Qualified Teachers Scheme, mainly those who qualified over 3 years ago, say that that the Education Minister is guilty of discrimination. I cant agree.

When this current scheme ends, these teachers are will be entitled to apply for existing jobs vacated by those departing. A degree isn’t a right of passage into any line of work, is a PGCE?

This comes down to cold, hard figures in austere times in an over populated skills base that continues to grow yearly.

But it has to be absolutely clear; the Education Minster has not set the 3 year qualification stipulation in stone (something the media forget to report). His department are still considering if 3 years is enough in order to fill the vacancies left by the Voluntary Exit Scheme.

A petition exists that calls for Mr O’Dowd to ensure teachers have “self worth” and “job security”. But 1000 new jobs covers this, does it not?

What the petition doesn’t address is what the education minster should do to ensure their demands are met?

It also has no party backing as presumably they see the teacher issue as a hot potato and cant table a viable alternative?

The figures the Education Minister is looking at are payscales.  Teachers who have graduated under 3 years ago will be placed lower on the pay-scale than a teacher who has graduated over 3 years ago. The majority of older teachers will be on on the highest grade.

To sum up: older teachers take voluntary redundancies and are replaced by newly qualified teachers on a lower wage with modern skills, to educate our children. This in turn equates to department savings (for more teachers after 2 years?) and modern teaching techniques.

This scheme is what politics is all about; making hard decisions to advance society. This isn’t about discrimination, this is about realisation.

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  • patrick23

    We shouldn’t be paying off people at 55 into a full retirement.
    Those young teachers have known for years that there isn’t a job, they should retrain or move away.

  • Disdain

    Does anyone have a link to more comprehensive detail than is provided here?

    One major thing I’d like to see clarified is whether the NQTs will be offered permanent contracts, as replacements for the permanent teachers they would be replacing. The “1-year probationary period” (a 1-year contract, followed by the advertisement of a permanent post with criteria which are suspiciously close to the skillset of the person finishing their 1 year) is becoming very common, and theusage of timebound contracts would be an easy (and cynical) way for DOE to keep salary costs down by stifling progressions.

  • Graham Parsons

    Is the issue not that we are training too many teachers? If teachers can’t get a job in N.I. there are plenty of posts available in England. 55 is too young to retire. What if we are losing talented teachers and replacing them with lower quality teachers? Will the retirees be able to re-apply for other teaching positions? Also I can’t take this idea seriously until we amalgamate both our teaching colleges.

    I’m a huge supporter of public sector workers but proposals like this (and similar schemes for the cops a few years back) don’t have my support.

  • Disdain

    The competition for PGCEs is now so intense that there is no doubt that those coming through will be very well trained. Experience will be lost undoubtedly, but the extent of this may depend on how “targeted” the redundancy offers are.

    England is an utter nightmare for teachers. Ofsted makes 1984 look libertarian. Huge burnout, poor pay (teachers are basically zoned out of London even with a salary weighting). Plus if teachers go to England straight out of university, they teach a different curriculum, when even most starter teaching jobs in NI require experience of the NI curriculum. So going to England can effectively preclude any entry into teaching in NI.

    What is needed is an iron-clad cap on the numbers of teachers educated through Stranmillis and St Mary’s, which is responsive (as far as possible) to need for teachers in NI – see how dentists, doctors and nurses’ places are determined. Naturally enough, this will never happen.

    Can you tell my partner’s a teacher? 😛

  • Kevin Breslin

    On the retraining aspects for teachers, we are told there are skills shortages in certain sectors, could not the vocational sector take in some of the teachers for those skills deficiencies?

    A big problem with this legislation people have is that teachers who have carried out the role but find themselves working in another sector are treated like damaged goods they cannot apply elsewhere not something that has something new to offer. Even if they could compete and lose, it would be better than being ruled out in the fear that they might beat a fresher candidate for the job.

    It doesn’t teach the next generation that persistence pays.

  • Ultonian

    Or, how about we train only the number of teachers we need (and maybe a few extra for export), in a single, integrated teacher training college?

    Rather than waste money training too many teachers in two separate colleges and then having to pay others to leave?

  • patrick23

    How come at 55 these teachers are dead wood? Does this apply to everyone, not just teachers? Perhaps judges should be replaced with recent law graduates?
    Also, rather than retrain them for other sectors,maybe a bit of training would bring them up to speed to stay as teachers?
    A PGCE lasts a year, it’s hard to think whatever brilliant new methods taught these days couldn’t be picked up by a professional of over 30 years standing.
    Finally, teachers do training days throughout the year. What have they been learning all these years if not be methods and techniques?

  • Croiteir

    This will be seen as a short sighted strategy. Has anyone considered the implications for the delivery of education, the maintenance of standards? Has there been due consideration of the skills and service implication of potential staff losses for efficiency? This is not an answer to too many teachers being produced. Spending money on smaller class size might? Just for instance.

  • Kevin Breslin

    I get the deadwood example, and I’m largely empathetic.
    Filling a job should be down to a candidate’s skills and wills.

    I can understand the reasons that a more willing candidate may beat a more experienced candidate or a more qualified candidate, while accepting that ultimately it’s the combination of wills, qualifications and experience that needs to be taken into account.

    Let’s remember that any trained teacher that has been out of the profession or never got into the profession would immediately have to explain why he or she deserves to return to it after such a long term out. By no means are they any more entitled to a job than a new candidate, but their life out of the profession may’ve given them skills and advantages that other teachers do not simply have.

    An absolutely excellent irony here is that for the likes of Gaelscoileanna, if you are a young “muinteoir eoleachta” in a meanscoil and there’s no job for you until a holder reaches 55 years and leaves, you may be the only person applying for the job, but the legislation offers you no leeway. Would they have to teach Irish to a non-Irish speaking science teacher to compensate? Bring in a translator?

    It seems like an unacceptable bureaucratic handicap, not that bureaucracy is bad in every context.

  • Kev Hughes

    I doubt I’ll be the first here, but you haven’t really developed any form of argument here based on facts, cold hard figures or anything. I get that you agree with John, but you haven’t really hammered home why or go through, in a methodical way, the objections raised before on this site for John’s proposed scheme.

    I will be upfront and say, yes, it could be a decent idea of getting very well paid professionals to take early retirement for younger, less expensive staff to take their place, but you haven’t put forth a convincing argument here, merely you’re backing John’s decision.



  • Lynsey Houston-Mailey

    You are not telling the whole truth Hugh Brown. Yes all the Unions support the retirement of teacher aged 55+ BUT NO UNION agrees with the ‘3 year rule’. John O’Dowd has refused to meet any teachers on this matter. He is trying to put this Scheme into the 2016/17 budget and in doing so has missed a wonderful opportunity to devise a fully costed and long term workforce strategy for the teaching profession. He announced this £47 million scheme after the Assembly has gone into it’s Christmas break thus avoiding the scrutiny which such a major commitment of public money deserves.

  • Catriona Marie C

    Loads of inaccuracy in this:

    1. Both INTO and NASUWT have called on the education minister to open the jobs to all teachers not in a permanent job. These savings can still be made.

    2. SDLP and Independents have both expressed support for the Equal Rights for all teachers group. People before profit candidates Eamon McCann and Gerry Carroll have both been outspoken on the rights of those discriminated against by the scheme. And UUP’s Sandra Overend has also opposed it.

    3. The solution has been given so many times: allow all temporary teachers to apply, this still saves thousands. But they don’t want to listen to that.

    There are 2274 temporary teachers too expensive to apply. We have all necessary training and years of excellent experience. Many of us have faced inspections and have had very positive results. we are the teachers who have suffered at the hands of the redundancies since 2010. If this is justified, what’s next? Are you going to think replacing experiences surgeons with newly qualified doctors in order to save a few pounds is a good idea??

    To let our government away with cheapening our children’s education is a very scary precident to set. And we need to stand up against it.

  • patrick23

    I agree there is little actually argued here, and it takes as a starting point that the idea is good in principle.
    The savings argument would be interesting to see teased out, we’d be paying two people for one job, until the retiree hits their actual retirement age. The fact that the money to pay the pensioner is in a different pot to the salary money doesn’t mean it’s free

  • murdockp

    This scheme is a nonsense straight out of a pre cold war era communist state,
    This is nothing to do with austerity and everything to do with demographics, department efficiencies and the high level of salaries and benefits teachers receive relative to the costs of living in NI society meaning demand for a teaching job is very high indeed.
    In any other profession, salaries would be reduced by employers as they seek to benefit from all this pent up demand, but hey not for teaching where a good salary exists from day no 1 in the profession.
    Our population make up is changing which has resulted in the numbers and age profiles of pupils requiring an education changing. There have also been efficiencies in merging schools and closing smaller schools which has resulted in a need for less teachers and staff across the board as efficiencies bare fruit and lets face it, even more efficiency can be delivered and they have only started this process the problem will get worse before it gets better.
    What they should have done six years ago at the start of this process was reduce the numbers taking teaching courses, they did not do this and as a result produced too many teachers.
    If some one with a brain was running the proceedings they would half the numbers on teaching courses.
    No graduate in any profession should be guaranteed a job. Teaching should be no different. What about the thousands of construction graduates who has to emigrate as far as Australia since 2007 to find work? Not a word said as they just did it, they did not have a winey union bleating on the side-lines telling politicians and the press that the world owed them a living.
    I have zero sympathy for newly qualified teachers. All of them knew the odds of getting a job were remote even before they started their courses.
    The market for jobs should decide who gets employed, assuming of course cronyism does not exist and jobs are given on merit, which is another topic of debate in itself as it seems to me in NI having a relative who is a head teacher or a priest for example seems to help securing employment.

  • Damian de Brún

    Hi Hugh,

    I’m glad you got on your soapbox to stand up for the Minister. I would like to clarify a few issues for you.

    1. Minister O’Dowd’s proposal is not backed by Teacher’s Unions. This is a lie that has been iterated again and again. Unions do support moves to try and employ teachers, but if you would refer to NASUWT and INTO, two of the biggest teaching unions in the North, neither support the Minister’s proposals in relation to the cap on recruitment set at 3 years.

    2. In your article, you have written ‘To do this Mr O’Dowd will access money set aside under the Voluntary Exit Scheme courtesy of a change to the original system in
    which monies would only become available if the post was closed’. However, the posts will not be ‘closed’, but filled as set out in the proposals by a Newly Qualified
    Teacher scheme.

    3. Yes, a PGCE is a requisit to teach in the North of Ireland. It does not guarantee a job, but it does qualify you to teach. Again you refer to 1000 NEW jobs. There has
    not been one NEW job created. These jobs are replacing existing jobs in the teaching sector from those who decide to retire early. There is no incentive for many teachers
    to leave early under this proposal, therefore bringing into question if 500 jobs will even open up.

    As a signatory of the petition, I can assure you that I am not making ‘demands’, only asserting my rights to be employed on the basis of equality of opportunity for all.
    Surely SF supporters who are very vocal in support of the Minister would not wish to be seen to be denying equality?


    Damian de Brún.

  • notimetoshine

    Out of interest do you think a union should t look out for its members? Because you are silly if you think not.

    “I have zero sympathy for newly qualified teachers. All of them knew the odds of getting a job were remote even before they started their courses.”

    Well you should because schools careers are still pushing teaching as an option.

    Also the lower wage figures that may result from this scheme may make this beneficial.

    Its a silly scheme anyway, they should use that money and those teachers and place them in areas of chronic under achievement early intervention schemes in schools that sort of thing. Would make a lot of sense.

  • Catriona Marie C

    Brilliant reply Damian!

  • Brendan Heading

    Given the headline, I was hoping to read a spirited and factual defence of this policy (about which I wrote this critical article a month ago). It’s most disappointing to see that instead, the article is a rather breathless and uncritical repetition of the headline “benefits” of the policy and reads rather as if it has been written by an enthusiastic young party activist on a work placement week at Connolly House.

    There has been unease over Education Minister John O’ Dowds proposed move to take 500 teachers out of the education sphere, and replace them with 500 newly qualified teachers – without job losses.

    It is a uniquely brazen form of spin that seeks to suggest that we somehow owe our gratitude to a government minister who has managed to allocate £33m over five years without sacking anybody.

    But that isn’t where the unease lies. The problem is twofold :-

    (a) the waste of public money; cash which could be used for other purposes is being spent artificially creating middle-class jobs for which there is no demand.

    (b) even if you set aside the waste of public money, there are serious concerns with age discrimination associated with the unexplained requirement that applicants for new teacher jobs have qualified within the last three years.

    The government in Northern Ireland has been, and still is, planning teacher training for a level of demand that it knew 20 years ago would not exist. The wider civil service redundancy scheme, as well as early retirement schemes such as this one, reflect a failure of the government to properly anticipate and plan its staffing levels. During the course of the past 12 months the government has shown no inclination to attempt to rectify the root cause, namely a pump-primed system that trains too many teachers.

    It is against this backdrop that the Minister is spending large amounts of additional money to try to disguise the problem – and you are telling us we are supposed to be grateful for it. The Minister is not solving any problems here; he is kicking them further down the road. What are we going to do in five years’ time when this scheme ends and, with St Mary’s and Stranmillis producing teachers at the same rate, we are back at exactly the same level of teacher unemployment ?

    Drawing down this money with the Tory Government attacking public services,

    The cuts in public services outside of welfare are being implemented by a SInn Féin-DUP executive which refuses to raise revenue locally in order to fund them. Austerity is Sinn Féin policy.

    The opponents of the Newly Qualified Teachers Scheme, mainly those who qualified over 3 years ago, say that that the Education Minister is guilty of discrimination. I cant agree.

    Why not ?

    What exactly is the justification for restricting the posts to recent graduates ?

    To sum up: older teachers take voluntary redundancies and are replaced by newly qualified teachers on a lower wage with modern skills, to educate our children

    The implication that senior teachers have skills which are out of date is not only an insult to the profession, but it belies the scrapheap mentality that appears to motivate the thinking behind this policy. I hope for your sake you never find yourself faced with the men in suits telling you to quit your job because you’re old fashioned.

  • aquifer

    Do we still have two undergrad teacher training colleges and Postgrad certificates too?

    In Finland they get great results with teachers that have higher and different qualifications. It seems that excellent learners with high expectations can pass this on to young children.

  • Jollyraj

    One suspects the poster favours the scheme mainly because of whose scheme it is.

  • Kev Hughes

    That could be true JR, but I won’t speculate. My point above is clear, I just want to see some evidence to back this up; a person’s party preference doesn’t matter to me in such a circumstance.

  • Reader

    Average length of career for a teacher = number of teaching placements / number of teachers trained per year.
    Stormont controls, and knows, both of the values on the right hand side of the equation, therefore Stormont controls the average length of career for a teacher. How many years is that going to be?

  • Reader

    notimetoshine: Also the lower wage figures that may result from this scheme may make this beneficial.
    I don’t think so. Presumably any substantive positions held by the retiring teachers (department head, etc.) will be filled again when they leave, so no saving there. So, that salary saving will just be 5 years * 500 teachers * the range of the pay scale from bottom to top. Is the range £10,000? In which case, the salary saving = £25M, which is a lot less than the cost of the scheme – and in any case ought to have been costed in (and might actually have been costed in)

  • NMS

    I have rarely read such rubbish in my life. For those of us who participated in the discussions arising from Brendan Harding’s earlier piece, I suppose we should have been expecting some form of defence of Provo economics.

    Let us recap some of the financial issues to start with.

    1)The actuarial cost of providing a pension similar to the existing teachers’ scheme to someone aged 55 is 27.25 to 1. That is it costs £27,250 in capital to pay an annual pension of £1,000. This excludes entitlements to lump sums.

    2)Many of the older teachers likely to retire hold posts of responsibility and these positions will be filled by promotions of existing staff. No saving there.

    3)Early retirement robs the pension scheme of contributions from those retiring for their remaining years to normal retirement age. At the same time the scheme will be accruing further liabilities by hiring replacements.

    4) If the cost of the existing Teachers’ pension scheme was to remain constant, the pension age should be raised to reflect improvements in life expectancy.

    The final cost of such a scheme will be much greater than the figure mentioned, but Mr. O’Dowd will be long gone, drawing his own pension, while someone else pays for his criminally negligent decisions.r

    Let us look at the practicalities. Unless very strict criteria are used, the “wrong” teachers will depart. I doubt there are too many spare Maths & Science teachers, while you are tripping over English & French ones. Will teachers of certain subjects have their applications refused based on inability to fill vacancies?

    Then we have the thorny issue of school enrolment & the possibility of discriminating against certain schools. Mr O’Dowd has of course previous in relation to this issue, see for example &

    While Mr O’Dowd may be suitably qualified to bake a cake, in this case it appears the books have been cooked.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Do you all remember that scene in the Simpsons where Homer is caught in quicksand and decides to pull his legs out with his hands and pull his hands out with his face and ends up sinking?

    Well, that was supposed to be a joke, not a basis for governmental policy…

  • chrisjones2

    Or merge two training colleges but we cannot do that politically as it would annoy too many people including the Church ….and just before an election

  • whatif1984true

    Getting jobs for 500 teachers ignores the fact that we have too many teachers/too many schools. Tackle that first.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Has there ever been a political thread on slugger with so much agreement?