42% of student teachers consider dropping out due to financial pressures

Leitrim Observer Reporter

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Leitrim Observer Reporter

Donegal man is new president of the INTO

John Boyle, president of the INTO

The Union of Students in Ireland (USI), alongside trade unions ICTU, TUI, ASTI and INTO, have released a report detailing that 42% of student teachers consider dropping out of college due to financial pressures associated with work placement. The report outline the average cost of placement for student teachers per week totaled €160 a week for just travel, resources and materials, food, and the Gaeltacht fee payment.

Over 3,000 students were surveyed across the country highlighting the financial pressure placed on student teachers, fuelling teacher shortage. The recommendations of the report call for teachers in initial teacher education to be financially supported by Government in similar ways to other professionals.  

The report finds that 96% of current students find their time on placement highly stressful indicating finance as the main driver for stress. 71% of current placement students hold part-time jobs during placement in order to afford rent, materials for teaching, travel and food, citing the €1,500 Gaeltacht fee as the biggest motivation for working part-time while on placement. 89% of current students and 79% of graduates say that the compulsory Gaeltacht fee is too high.

Speaking at the launch, USI President Michael Kerrigan, said, “Work placement is invaluable preparation for student teachers pursuing their vocation as educators. Students are following their dreams to teach the next generation while battling the high cost of living with no financial support being given at all. Along with working part-time jobs, students are on placements lasting 30 – 35 hours a week with no support for travel, food or materials. ”

“The reality is, students can’t cope with the cost of living without another job on top of this and the €1,500 Gaeltacht fee is an extra cost put onto student teachers alongside the €3,000 registration charge”, Mr Kerrigan went on to say. “The average cost of college is €12,500 while students, in Ireland are paying the second highest fees in the EU, after the UK, on top of another €1,500 a year for a Gaeltacht fee. It’s time our Government valued student teachers, otherwise we’re faced with a drought of talent with the shortage of teachers reaching crisis point.”

Patricia King, General Secretary of ICTU, said, “The costs being borne by student teachers is yet another example of the obstacles they and many young people face before fully entering the labour market. Clearly, gaining gaining quality experience in the workplace is something that must be supported, but not at the risk to student learning and health, as indicated by the report.

“Congress supports this new collaboration in education, which will help to improve student conditions whilst recognising and striving for improvement in working conditions for all young workers.  We will continue to work with the student movement and all affiliate unions to ensure that students and young workers can avail of quality opportunities and decent conditions in the workplace.”

TUI President Joanne Irwin said, “With the extension of the Professional Master of Education (PME) – required to teach at second level in Ireland - to two years, students and their families are enduring unprecedented financial strain, which is leading to high levels of stress that can severely affect their studies. That 42% of students consider dropping out before completion of their studies is an alarming statistic, particularly at a time when there is already a crisis in Irish education in terms of teacher recruitment and retention.”

Speaking about the report, Ger Curtin, ASTI President, stated, “The cost of entering second-level teaching is prohibitive for many graduates, especially for those from less affluent backgrounds.  We fully support the USI in their campaign for a payment for student teachers who are undertaking teaching as part of their studies.”

John Boyle, INTO President, welcomed the report stating, “The escalating costs for student teachers on placement is a matter of concern to the INTO. While school placement is an integral part of initial teacher education, additional time spent in schools needs to be accompanied by support for student teachers to compensate for expenses such as transport, clothing, classroom resources and materials and loss of part time earnings while on placement. Without government action on this there is a very real fear that success in school placement could become a factor of ability to pay rather than ability to teach. The INTO welcomes the USI Report which clearly and accurately outlines the various costs faced by student teachers on placement.”

USI launched the survey in 2017 with trade unions ICTU, TUI, ASTI and INTO for better working conditions for student teachers while on placement.The unions are calling for student teachers to be treated as favourably as students on placement in other professions, and should receive an agreed hourly rate to cover costs associated with their teaching placement.  USI also proposes the reinstatement of the state grant to cover all eight weeks of mandatory Gaeltacht placement for PME students.