The latest set of OECD international indicators – Education At A Glance 2019 – highlights the high quality work of Irish teachers and lecturers. The report also confirms the consistent failure of Government to appropriately fund education in Ireland.
This morning, TUI President Seamus Lahart commented on key findings in the 500-page report.
High teaching hours for Irish teachers, high ratio of students to teaching staff at third level
At upper secondary, Irish teachers continue to teach considerably more hours (726) than the European and OECD average of 643 and 667 hours respectively. Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Italy, Spain and Korea are among those countries with lower numbers of teaching hours.
At third level, the ratio of students to teaching staff of 21:1 remains significantly higher than the OECD average of 16:1. This is a depressing legacy of an absolute political failure – borne from cowardice - to address the funding crisis that has blighted the sector in recent years.
Ireland bottom of the pile in terms of overall investment
Of the countries for which figures are provided, only two spend a lower proportion of national wealth on education than Ireland (3.2%). The situation at second level is worse again, with Ireland bottom of the pile with just 1.2% of national wealth spent on the sector compared to the OECD and European averages of 2% and 1.9%.
Clearly, it is those from disadvantaged backgrounds who suffer the most from the negative effects of inadequate education budgets. The continuing refusal to invest must be viewed as a sustained attack on the most vulnerable in our communities.
Investment in education pays dividends in terms of better quality jobs and increased revenue from taxation and social contributions. It also provides the individual and their dependents with vastly better life prospects.
Salary data must be looked at in correct context
Starting salaries for full-time teachers at second level in Ireland are broadly in line with the OECD and EU averages. However, this only tells a small part of the story as the majority of second-level teachers commence employment on contracts of less than full hours. It remains the exception that a teacher would commence employment on a contract of full hours. The report fails to factor in the lack of opportunity for career advancement in Irish education.
As a result of discriminatory pay rates, schools are experiencing a teacher recruitment and retentions crisis. The TUI is balloting its members this month to refresh its mandate for industrial action in the campaign to end this injustice.
Vocational and further education sector offers solution for those neither employed nor in education
12.5% of 18 to 24- year-olds are neither employed nor in education (NEETs) in Ireland, according to the report. This represents a significant proportion of young people. Our publicly-funded further and adult education sector should be appropriately funded and equipped to help tackle this cohort of the population. Apprenticeship could play a cruical role here also.