Ulster Unionist Education Spokesperson, Sandra Overend MLA, has questioned the priorities of the Education Minister in the wake of an announcement of a £47m early retirement package for teachers.
Mrs Overend said:
“Minister O’Dowd may have earned some plaudits for planning to pay off around 500 teachers on full pensions at over 55, to make room for newly qualified teachers. However, in his rush to tag a scheme onto the 2016/17 budget, he has missed an opportunity to devise a fully costed and long term workforce planning strategy for the teaching profession. In announcing the £47m scheme after the Assembly has gone into Christmas recess, the Minister has also avoided the scrutiny which such a major commitment of public money deserves.
“The replacements for the early retiring teachers are to be ‘recently qualified teachers’, defined as those who have graduated within the past 3 years. However, what about those who have a teacher qualification but who have, due to lack of teaching job opportunities, gone into other professions, earning valuable experience in the world of work. Why should these people be excluded? The scheme should target the best potential teachers, not just the most recent graduates.
“By allowing the early retirement of so many teachers the number of vacancies arising naturally over the next few years will be reduced. With the imminent reduction of the overall number of teachers, the total number of vacancies arising in the next few years will be far less than what would otherwise be expected. Therefore opportunities for new teachers in years to come will be limited.
“Overall, the startling fact is that three quarters of recently qualified teachers have not found permanent teaching positions in Northern Ireland. This should surely be prompting the Minister for Education to consider the more fundamental question. Why is it, at a time when we face a shortage of doctors, nurses and software engineers, is he continuing to train up too many teachers for the jobs available?
“In addition there is nothing to stop eligible teachers taking a large pay-off and then coming back as substitute teachers. Given the recurrent budgetary and redundancy crises over the past few years, is this really affordable at a time when literacy and numeracy programmes have just been discontinued for supposed financial reasons? We need to hear a lot more detail from the Minister about both the Investing in the Teaching Workforce Scheme and the Strategic Cost Reduction Programme.
“If this latest scheme is not part of a carefully thought out strategy to ensure that the number of trainee teachers produced matches the vacancies which will be available in the future, then Minister O’Dowd will turn out to be not a Father Christmas distributing gifts, rather the Grinch who stole and squandered the education budget.”