The Union of Students in Ireland (USI) has come forward once again to demand changes for student teachers. A recent report found that there has been a ‘total collapse’ in the number of applicants for teacher-training courses, a collapse that the Union believes is linked to the lack of financial support in place for those on placement.
Following a change in the course structure, the cost of college for trainee teachers increased dramatically. The former one-year higher diploma was replaced by a two year professional masters of education (PME), resulting in an extra year of costs for students. USI President Michael Kerrigan estimates that this change puts a ‘financial burden of up to €11,000 on prospective teachers’. On top of this cost, many students have to travel for their 10 week placements – with those unable to get a placement close to college paying up to €50 a week.
Last year, the Union launched a national campaign to try and get supports for students on placement. The campaign included an online survey that student teachers were encouraged to fill out. The results of this survey highlighted the significant financial struggle that these prospective teachers have to undertake. Most students would pay at least €200 in the beginning to purchase professional clothes for their placement. Left with no other options, students must also work part-time jobs during their placement, according to Mr Kerrigan. These students are having to work 30-35 hours a week unpaid, and then having to work evenings and weekends to be financially able to travel and stay in accommodation.
Teaching graduate from St Angela’s College Sligo, Aoife Deasy, said, “Teaching is a very expensive degree. I completed the 4 year B.Ed programme, on my first day in college I spent €1,000 on materials. I completed a 3 week placement in first year, a 4 week placement 2nd-3rd year and a 10 week placement in final year. I was never once paid for placement.”
Student teachers have also pointed out that they often have to use their own money for classroom items such as stationary, printing and art supplies. The increase in accommodation costs are only rising, which means student teachers will need even more help in the coming years.
UCC student teacher Niamh O’Driscoll supported the aims of the USI and the unions, saying: “The course is really demanding. For a lot of people, working part-time is not sustainable, the cost is crazy- it’s €10,800 for the two years, on top of accommodation. What people don’t include is travel expenses to and from the schools, and the amount of our own money that has to be spent on stationery like printing, sheets for activities in the classroom, and our files. On top of that, there’s the cost of living. It is worrying to think the cost of all this is turning really worthwhile people off the profession. Any bit of financial support would be so helpful; it just feels like we’re putting in so much for two years, for so little reward.”
Kerrigan stated that ‘We are now faced with a crisis situation, schools cannot find qualified teachers for certain subjects, it’s not a pinch point, it’s a crisis.’
This barrier could be somewhat overcome by supporting students financially to cover the cost of travel, accommodation, materials, and food. The USI is urging the Minister for Education and Skills Richard Bruton to discuss how the Department for Education and Skills can support student teachers on placement in order to tackle the teacher shortage crisis.