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Fewer than 400 young teachers in north's schools

Up to 500 older classroom staff will be replaced by recently qualified teachers

Fewer than 400 young teachers are employed full-time in the north's schools, an assembly committee has heard.

Details of a radical plan to replace older classroom staff with younger teachers were shared with members of the assembly education committee yesterday.

Education minister John O'Dowd has approved a £33.1million investment which will see hundreds of recently qualified teachers employed in schools. Up to 500 teachers aged 55-plus are expected to make way for younger staff.

Since 2013/14, more than 2,000 graduates have registered with the General Teaching Council for Northern Ireland, of which it is understood about 1,400 do not yet hold a permanent teaching position in a grant-aided school.

Experienced teachers without permanent posts have hit out the scheme, however, saying they will lose out because they earned their teaching degrees more than three years ago.

Those who qualified in the past three years will be eligible to apply, although the Department of Education is continuing to explore whether it can go beyond this period.

La'verne Montgomery from the department told the committee that three years was considered the "tipping point".

Statistics from the General Teaching Council, she said, showed that more than 50 per cent of those who qualified in the last three years were unemployed. She added that fewer than 400 permanent teaching staff in schools, out of a workforce of about 20,000, were 25 or younger.

"What we are finding is more are staying on into older age and younger teachers are not getting the opportunities. These 500 posts would not be available if this scheme was not introduced," Ms Montgomery said.

Trevor Lunn of the Alliance Party said he did not think the scheme was reasonable or fair.

"Is it legal to restrict the scheme in this way? As it sits at the moment, it is bound to be challenged," he said.

Ms Montgomery said the department had sought legal advice adding that it had not yet completed its work in relation to screening and equality impact.

Meanwhile, the Equality Commission said the inclusion of specific job criteria in the proposed scheme, such as being recently qualified "may narrow the possible pool of applicants and may be contrary to the legislation providing protection against age discrimination in employment".

"However, there are certain circumstances whereby potential age discrimination in employment can be objectively justified, where it is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim. It will be a matter for the department to provide clarity and justification on any criteria adopted," a spokeswoman said.

"The Equality Commission will be discussing the proposed Investing in the Teaching Workforce scheme with Department of Education officials and will provide advice on the implications for any potential age discrimination in the delivery of this scheme."

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