NI teacher loses High Court challenge

There is a need to create vacancies for teaching graduates in Northern Ireland
There is a need to create vacancies for teaching graduates in Northern Ireland

A school teacher has lost a High Court challenge to a scheme aimed to securing up to 120 jobs for newly-qualified members of the profession in Northern Ireland.

Strabane man Dylan Early, 36, claimed he was being unlawfully excluded from applying for any vacancies created by the initiative because of his greater experience.

But a judge ruled that indirect discrimination against him on the ground of his age was justified by the legitimate aim of providing opportunities for those starting out as teachers.

Mr Justice Colton said: “I am satisfied that the respondents have established that objectively speaking there exists a real need to promote access to employment for younger graduates in the teaching profession.”

Since he qualified as a teacher in 2009 Mr Early has worked almost continuously in temporary positions at colleges in the Tyrone and Derry areas.

He issued judicial review proceedings against the Department of Education’s decision to implement the Investing in the Teaching Workforce scheme.

The initiative, set to be launched on a one-year trial basis, enables teachers over the age of 55 to take early retirement.

Under the plans only those who graduated since 2012 would be eligible to replace them.

It had originally been announced in 2015 by then Education Minister John O’Dowd, and was then given the green light by his successor, Peter Weir.

But Mr Early’s lawyers challenged the legality of the scheme, claiming it discriminated on the grounds of his age and experience.

They further contended it was a cost-saving programme that should be quashed.

Teachers on a higher pay scale would become candidates for jobs if the scheme had been extended to those who qualified before 2012, the court heard.

With Mr Early now near the top of the relevant pay grade, it was also claimed this could act as a deterrent among schools hiring substitute teachers.

Attorney General John Larkin QC, representing the Department, countered that the scheme was rational and time-limited.

He also contended that it was a reasonable attempt to refresh the workforce.

Ruling on the case, Mr Justice Colton commended Mr Early on his efforts to qualify as a teacher after dropping out of school and working for Royal Mail.

However, the judge stressed the initiative will only create 120 jobs, while around 450 permanent positions become available each year.

“He is not losing his employment as a result of this scheme and opportunities to apply for full-time positions will remain open to him,” he said.

Dismissing the challenge, he noted it was a “controlled experiment” aimed at tackling under-employment among the recently qualified which will be monitored at the end of the year.

He confirmed: “I have come to the view that this scheme is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.”