Suspension of early retirement scheme leaves teachers ‘reeling’, say UTU

Avril Hall Callaghan
Avril Hall Callaghan

A scheme to replace older teaching staff with newly-qualified teachers has been suspended, leaving teachers ‘reeling’ according to a trade union.

The programme aimed to allow up to 120 teachers over the age of 55 to retire early in 2016/17.

They were to be replaced by teachers who had graduated since 2012.

A spokesperson for the Ulster Teachers’ Union said: “Left ‘reeling’ by today’s shock announcement that the much-lauded £33m Investing in the Teaching Workforce Scheme has been pulled, they are struggling to see a way forward.”

“This amounts to the worst possible news coming at the worst possible time, when teacher morale is at an all-time low. Members are reeling. Just when you think things can’t get any worse for our profession the Department of Education launches this salvo,” said Avril Hall Callaghan, General Secretary of the UTU.

The union said the scheme’s initial budget of £33m would have allowed 500 newly qualified teachers into the profession by facilitating the early exit of those aged over 55 who wanted to take early retirement - was la.

However, when the scheme was launched as a limited £8m pilot last year the UTU had concerns.

Avril Hall Callaghan continued: “Whilst we were still headed in the right direction at that stage, even downgrade from £33m to £8m was alarming and at that stage we said we would be keeping a close watch on the situation to ensure the original funding announced was not lost to the education budget.

“We said then that unless the original scheme went ahead it would trigger the biggest crisis in teaching in a generation – and that is exactly what has happened.

“We have already been talking to teachers planning to use to scheme to leave the profession at the end of this academic year. While they have been busy making plans for themselves and their families, in good faith, based on what the Department said it would deliver, the Department has been playing fast and loose with these people’s futures.

“To say it is cynical and utterly devoid of any finesse does not come even close. Teachers who thought they would be retiring in a few months must now gear up again to face another term.

“Meanwhile, more recently qualified teachers who thought they would finally get the start in their profession which they so desperately wanted are again left floundering.

“I cannot begin to grasp the thought process which thinks this could be a good move, now or in the long-term. Morale is at an all-time low. Workload, pay and pension wrangles, lack of recognition, lack of professional development and bureaucracy are all leading to a steady drip of talent from the profession.

“If we’re facing this crisis today we will be facing a bigger one in a few years when a resultant recruitment crisis means we just won’t be able to get the teachers Northern Ireland needs to educate its children.”