Soapbox: The Newly Qualified Teachers Scheme is blind to fate of experienced part time teachers…

Catriona Concannon is the chairperson of the “Equal Rights for all” teacher’s group. Here she responds to Hugh Brown’s soapbox lauding the Minister of Education for his  Newly Qualified Teachers Scheme aimed at creating new teaching jobs for Northern Ireland’s newly qualified teachers.

On the 18th of December 2015, after the education committee had recessed for Christmas, the Education Minister for Northern Ireland, John O’Dowd, released to BBC NI, plans to “create” 500 jobs by replacing teachers over the age of 55 with “recently qualified teachers”. Whilst this in principle is a good scheme, there are many issues that need to be addressed.

Firstly, there are 2274 teachers ineligible to apply. This is a significant number of qualified and experienced professionals, with the skills and experience to lead our education system forward. The minister is a member of a party that promotes equality, but this scheme clearly flies in the face of that claim, directly discriminating against those who have been teaching three years or more.

According to DENI officials, using GTCNI figures, the scheme is justifiable as under 24s are underrepresented in the teaching workforce. Of course they are, the earliest they can graduate is age 22, so therefore there are almost half of them, compared to the 25-30 age bracket. Secondly, the figures used by DENI to justify this discrimination regard any teacher working more than one term in a school as “employed” for that year.

By those standards I have been employed throughout my career, however for ten years I have not been entitled to sick pay (since January 2016 this has changed thankfully), I have to save every year in order to pay my mortgage in the summer months and I spend the spring and summer months in extreme anxiety, worrying that I will not gain employment in  the next school year.

There are many inaccurate claims surrounding this scheme, from the Education Minister and DENI themselves, as well as contributors to this site. Firstly it was claimed that the Unions brought the scheme to the minister. This is partly true. INTO agreed that they brought the scheme to the minister several years ago, however they did not include the three year restriction, in fact:

“Extending the eligibility criteria for the scheme is a priority for INTO. INTO continues to press the Department of Education encompass as many teachers, currently not in full time teaching employment, as possible” 

Previous to INTO’s bulletin being published NASUWT released their own reaction:

“The NASUWT had no advance knowledge of the announcement of the Scheme made by the Minister on 18 December, before the Union had had the opportunity to consider the final proposal. The NASUWT has written to Education Minister John O’Dowd requesting that he extends the eligibility criteria of the Scheme to include any teacher who has not been able to secure a permanent contract since qualifying” 

I did not go into teaching for the benefits, pay or holidays, as clearly I have not benefited from any of these and ten years later I am still dedicated to my profession. In fact, to me it is a vocation. I love my job, I cherish the time I spend daily with every child under my care.

I spend hours after school providing after school activities, as I enjoy it as much as the children.

I spend many hours training and keeping myself up to date with modern teaching techniques, but the most important thing I have learned is the best practice from watching my amazing colleagues teaching around me.

The Minister and his Department use the terminology to ‘refresh the workforce’ as a legal objective or justification. 

Cleverly crafted process can no doubt be put in place to give the illusion of a ‘legitimate aim’ in the eyes of the law to explain away discrimination.  All this effort will of course be funded from the already overstretched public purse the scheme aims to alleviate pressures from.

But of course what the Minister and his Department have overlooked is the fact that any court of law charged with investigating this case will not accept blindly the convenient statistics they have used to suggest there is credibility to the proposal. 

Indeed when the statistics used were presented to the Education Committee nobody was duped.  The scheme is based on material evidence that is in conflict with common sense, and the heavy weight of alternative information readily available to the Department.

This is a guest slot to give a platform for new writers either as a one off, or a prelude to becoming part of the regular Slugger team.

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