The Investing in the Teaching Workforce scheme will cost around £33m, with funding allocated by the Executive from the Public Sector Transformation Fund, and is expected to come into play in Northern Ireland in spring 2016. The scheme aims to encourage over 500 older teachers to retire with early access to pensions, with this deal only available to schools that replace the member of staff with a recently-graduated or newly-qualified teacher. Around £14m has been set aside to fund voluntary redundancies.
Many have expressed disappointment with the scheme’s framework, suggesting that it is limited and penalises those between graduation and retirement age. Teachers in temporary posts are particularly frustrated, as it is not yet clear whether they will be eligible to apply for open positions; in addition, it is not known whether teachers who qualified more than three years ago will be accepted into the scheme. Those who are considering applying for the programme are understandably looking to obtain estimates for the pensions they could expect to receive if successful.
An uncertain situation
A group of teachers met with Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) in Stormont to contest the scheme, with the meeting also attended by representatives from the Equal Rights for All Teachers group. They expressed concern that this scheme will exacerbate what is already an uncertain situation, especially for substitute teachers and those in temporary jobs, and reduce the number of jobs available for more experienced teachers.
Other MLAs have urged caution with regard to the parameters of the scheme. Foyle MLA Mark H Durkan made a statement that suggested the programme was discriminatory to equal opportunities for all teachers and called on the education minister to rethink the plan and devise a fairer approach.
Creating employment opportunities
The education minister, John O’Dowd, stated that he has yet to finalise the details; however, he confirmed that he is looking to create new employment opportunities for recently-qualified teachers, who have the most difficulty in securing permanent jobs. He admitted financial savings for schools was a significant part of the process.
O’Dowd said he was committed to refreshing the workforce, which he believes is the driving principle behind this new programme. He called it a benefit to the economy that should not be underestimated. The Irish National Teachers’ Organisation has welcomed the scheme, praising it as a valuable investment in education.
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