Durkan urges rethink over teachers’ scheme

Environment Minister Mark H Durkan.
Environment Minister Mark H Durkan.

Foyle MLA, Mark H Durkan, has written to the Education Minister, John O’Dowd, to ask his Department to look at a fairer solution to help all qualified teachers secure permanent posts.

Environment Minister Mr Durkan was speaking after his Ministerial colleague Mr O’Dowd recently announced a new £33m ‘Investing in the Teaching Workforce’ Scheme to replace older teachers with newly qualified staff.

Education Minister John O'Dowd.'Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker

Education Minister John O'Dowd.'Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker

When contacted by the ‘Journal’ regarding the concerns raised yesterday, Mr O’Dowd said it was understandable that there were some anxieties around the parameters set by the new scheme but said it would allow 500 teachers to retire early, thus freeing up 500 posts to be filled by recently qualified teachers.

The introduction of scheme would encourage hundreds of teachers over the age of 55 to retire with early access to their full pension.

Schools would be able to take advantage of this deal as long as they replace outgoing teachers with a newly qualified teacher, or one who has graduated within the past three years.

Mr Durkan said: “While I commend the Minister’s desire to do something for our young teachers, this scheme, as proposed, is discriminatory towards those who are longer qualified and have been unable to secure a permanent post.

“I am keen to work with all parties to identify a fairer solution.

“Since the announcement, I have been contacted by many worried and frustrated constituents who are anxious that this may present them with further difficulties in securing work in the future.

“An online petition set up has already received 2,596 signatures calling for equal opportunities for all teachers.

“I have, therefore, written to the Minister on this issue to ask him to consider a fairer approach that will benefit all qualified teachers who have yet to secure a permanent post.”

Responding to the concerns raised by Mr Durkan, the Education Minister, John O’Dowd said:

“The Investing in the Teaching Workforce Scheme is intended to provide early access to pension for teachers aged 55 plus, with the post being replaced by a recently qualified teacher.

“While perhaps understandably there has been some disappointment expressed about the proposed parameters of the scheme, it has to be remembered that 500 recently qualified teachers will be getting permanent jobs and 500 older teachers will be allowed to retire several years early with full pension benefits.

“In the absence of this scheme neither will happen.”

Mr O’Dowd added: “While teachers who qualified in the past three years will be eligible to apply, I am continuing to explore whether I can go beyond this three year period and still achieve the necessary savings to school budgets to make the scheme viable.

“I have not finalised the qualification criteria for the Scheme. It is intended that the Scheme will be launched in early Spring 2016 after all options have been explored. All relevant criteria will be publicised at that stage.”