The USI last week announced plans to campaign for improved placement conditions for student teachers, in conjunction with various trade unions including the INTO and ASTI. The unions are calling for student teachers to be paid while on placement to cover the expenses associated with it, including travel, accommodation, and materials. Dramatic increases in the cost of living in recent times have had serious impacts on the lives of these students, whose placements can last between 30-35 hours a week completely unpaid.
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.”
Students who elect to progress on to master’s level and train as a teacher undergo a challenging and onerous programme, graduating with 5-6 years of third level education. It is a serious commitment in terms of time and of finance, and, according to the unions, the investment put into the teacher training programme by the Irish government does not necessarily reflect that. Countries like Finland and Canada, deemed by the OECD to have high-performing education schemes, are also those who rank highly in monetary investment by their respective governments.
Referring to the dearth of financial support for these students, USI President Michael Kerrigan said, “Our top class teachers get second class supports. Work placement is invaluable preparation for student teachers who are pursuing their vocation as educators and no financial support is given… The reality is students can’t cope with the cost of living without another job on top of this. The average cost of college is €12,500 while students are paying the second highest fees in the EU after the UK. It’s time our Government valued student teachers, otherwise we’re faced with a drought of talent with a shortage of teachers reaching crisis point.”
Patricia King, Congress General Secretary, called the conditions facing student teachers “yet another example of the financial difficulties that face our students and young people and act as barriers to their accessing and fully participating in the workplace.” King continued: “We must do all we can to ensure that our student teachers, indeed all students, are given the best opportunities to access the workplace and decent work, without the added pressure and stress of these additional financial costs.”
The USI and the teaching unions want to meet with Minister for Education Richard Bruton to discuss the financial plight of student teachers nationally, and how the Department for Education and Skills can help. “The escalating costs for student teachers on placement was a matter of concern to the INTO,” said John Boyle, President of the INTO. “Without government action on this there was a very real fear that success in school placement could become a factor of ability to pay rather than ability to teach.”