Ireland
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Tánaiste in favour of halving the length of teacher training courses

The Tánaiste is pushing to reduce the length of teacher training courses by a year in a bid to lure more people into the profession.

Amid a severe shortage of teachers, Micheál Martin also wants top-up payments re-introduced for additional teaching qualifications.

Mr Martin has said the financial burden of the current two-year graduate conversion course is preventing many students from entering teaching.

In an interview with the Irish Examiner, he said: "If you're working class or your income is limited to what your family can do, the idea of the masters in teaching will be a daunting financial prospect. I think we should be alive to revisiting all that. 

"Pure educationists might say we need two years, but I'm not convinced. I do think we perhaps have to look at, particularly at the post-primary level, that masters process, and the two-year timeline and whether we can shorten that."

Mr Martin said he would be in favour of cutting the Professional Masters of Education (PME), first introduced in 2014, to one year, however, another option would be to integrate the second year into teaching practice to allow students to earn money during this final year.

I think the cost of what used to be the H-Dip and is now a Masters is something we should look at and be alive to the fact that for some young people, financially, it can now be a very difficult proposition to go on and do that further two years to become a teacher.

Addressing the wider problem of recruitment and retention, he added: "There are other issues impinging on it, housing, people want to go abroad for a while, not all the time, but they might go to UAE or elsewhere for two or three years. 

"So, we have to be alive to those realities and see what we can do to retain teachers, but also in terms of flexibility around various training modules as well."

Mr Martin suggested that additional payments should be re-introduced for teachers who go on to gain extra qualifications, such as a special education qualification or doctorate degree. Under austerity measures, a number of teaching top-ups were axed for new entrants as part of a public service review of allowances and premium payments in 2012.

He said: "We should incentivise continuing professional development. In the years after the crash, decisions were taken where allowances for postgraduate [were cut]. That was a mistake in my view because afterward, if people go down to do a Masters while they are teaching, you are enhancing the quality of your teaching."

The Teachers Union of Ireland (TUI) recently said a shortage of teachers in second-level schools is narrowing the range of subject options available to students. “Schools are struggling with a very real, severe teacher recruitment and retention crisis, so the time for sticking plaster measures has long since passed,” said TUI president Liz Farrell.

However, Mr Martin insisted that teaching is still a "noble" profession, and many young people still see it as a career they want to get into.

Stressing the need to remove some of the barriers in place, Mr Martin, who worked as a primary school teacher before entering politics, said: "When I qualified myself, I did a general degree and then we did a H-Dip year and there was a natural follow-on.

"For someone who had just finished their BA, BSc, or whatever, you had the incentive of saying 'one more year and I am a qualified teacher'. Whereas now you're going to say, 'Well, it's a big expense'."