Irish teachers in the UK have called on the Irish government to introduce more substantive measures than online portals if they’re to be encouraged to return home to work.
Permanent contracts, guaranteed access to jobs, fair wages and additional training are needed to entice them to return, a number of Irish teachers currently working in British schools agree.
The Irish World reported earlier this month how Ireland has appealed to Irish teachers working here in the UK – and the rest of the world – to come home to end the country’s chronic teacher shortage.
But it has not done anything to address the two-tier pay and working conditions that prompted many of them to leave in the first place.
In an attempt to match educators here with schools in Ireland that have teacher shortages, the Irish government set up an online portal, turasabhaile.com, which translates as ‘journey home’.
According to the UK’s School Teacher Workforce figures released last year, there are approximately 7,500 Irish teachers in the UK.
In the past decade, Irish teachers have emigrated in their tens of thousands. Irish teachers’ unions say this is because of a lack of regular work, two-tier pay gaps and difficulties securing permanent contracts.
School management bodies in Ireland say the resulting shortage of teachers is causing a “crisis”. Across primary and secondary levels – particularly in populous urban areas – acute shortages have worsened.
Frankie McCague, who teaches at a school in Southend, qualified with his teaching degree in Ireland in 2010 and subsequently moved to Essex to begin full-time work. In the first school that he ended up working in, there were over a dozen Irish teachers, he remembers, all aged between 22 and 27.
“That’s an incredible brain-drain,” he tells the Irish World.
Right and proper
McCague believes that it is “right and proper” that the Irish government is reaching out to teachers who emigrated from the period after the financial crash in 2008 right up until recent years.
Many thousands of teachers, he says, never wanted to move abroad but were forced to do so because of a dearth in opportunities at home.
The details of the government’s new proposals, which essentially amount to a portal to help fast track applications and a way of promoting the notion of teachers returning, are a “bit spare”, according to McCague.
Recently, while working in the UK, he has been given “excellent” opportunities for career progression. He is now the head of a department at a grammar school, the kind of upward trajectory he feels doesn’t exist in Ireland at the moment.
Ultimately, though, he doesn’t intend to stay in England forever. If he moves back to Ireland, he needs “to be sure that if I were giving up this job to move home, that I’d be getting a CID (contract of indefinite employment).”
“Looking into this it suggests that this can take up to two years to be awarded and that’s only if you meet all the requirements,” he says.
After the 2008 crash, successive Irish governments’ austerity programmes meant that teachers, as public servants, had their pay cut and other terms and conditions changed.
Ministers have resisted calls to restore pay levels for thousands of younger teachers hired on lower pay scales following the economic crash. But even considering this reluctance to level the playing field, many young Irish teachers in the UK are choosing to move back to Ireland.
Avril Kinnerk, a London-based teacher originally from Cork, has been offered a job back home but is choosing to stay put for now. Her friends, however, have recently applied, unsuccessfully, directly to schools with vacancies or through the Education and Training Boards (ETB).
They also applied for any jobs that they encountered on job-hosting website, educationposts.ie. Going back home, she suggests, is more arduous than the Irish government would have teachers believe.
“One girl, out of 64 applications, only got 2 interviews and heard back from a total of 10 schools. So it’s interesting that they say there’s a shortage, yet aren’t giving people the chance to interview,” Kinnerk says. “How will the government get them the jobs when the schools can’t even reply to them?”
Many teachers in the UK, like McCague, regularly consider returning home. Jo Doyle, another UK-based Irish teacher, told the Irish World that she wouldn’t risk a permanent full-time job in the UK for the chance, in Ireland, of “a bit of part-time work”.
Preferring to live without the uncertainty of a fixed-term contract, where three months holidays, for instance, go unpaid, she argues that the Irish government must resolve this aspect of teaching life in Ireland before she – and many others – consider moving again.
“Here in the UK, if you’re on a fixed term contract, then after 4 years if your fixed term has been renewed twice, then you are entitled to be made permanent,” she says. [I’m] not sure of the full extent of the Irish government’s approach, but they need to tackle this issue or people won’t come back.”
It’s not only flimsy contracts that cause apprehension in teachers pondering returning home. Housing costs are skyrocketing across the country, particularly in urban areas, and the general cost of living can be higher in Ireland than in the UK.
The differing teaching curricula concerns many educators overseas, McCague included, meaning extra training might be needed. “Are the government going to make certain guarantees for people returning home?” he adds. “I’ve never taught in Ireland – other than on teaching practice – since I graduated.”
In 2017, he bought a flat here. Uprooting a life, he says, requires more security, both professionally and financially.
Even so, he has heard of people returning to Ireland and finding employment. This gives him hope of everything, one day in the near future, clicking into place so that he, too, can return home.