Scheme to employ young teachers stalled by legal action

The scheme will not take place in the current academic year

TEACHERS are facing their "biggest crisis in a generation" after a legal challenge halted plans to employ young out-of-work classroom staff.

Unions are alarmed at a decision by the Department of Education to pause the Investing in the Teaching Workforce scheme.

About £8 million was made available to allow 120 teachers aged 55 and over to be released from the profession. This would, in turn, provide jobs for 120 recently qualified teachers.

When the idea was first floated, it was said that up to 500 would leave the classroom to make way for younger staff - with £33m to be allocated by the Executive.

The scheme was oversubscribed, receiving 460 applications.

Now, the department has said it has received a legal challenge from a teacher, which relates to the stipulation that applications for replacement positions will be open to "recently qualified teachers".

A spokeswoman said the applicant believed this was unlawful age-related discrimination. The department, she said, believed there was "strong objective justification for the scheme and is contesting the challenge on that basis".

"Given the need to plan and deliver the scheme in a manner which delivers certainty and minimises disruption for schools, teachers and pupils, the department has taken a decision to pause implementation until the court has determined the Judicial Review application," she added.

"This means that the planned exits of serving teachers and recruitment of recently qualified teachers under the terms of the scheme will not take place in the current academic year, which ends on the 31 August 2017.

"This will come as a disappointment to many teachers. The department believes that a pause is an appropriate response in the circumstances. Applications with conditional approval for release will be revisited as soon as the outcome of the legal challenge is known."

Ulster Teachers' Union general secretary Avril Hall Callaghan said members were "reeling".

"This amounts to the worst possible news coming at the worst possible time, when teacher morale is at an all-time low," she said.

"We said then that unless the original scheme went ahead it would trigger the biggest crisis in teaching in a generation - and that is exactly what has happened.

"We have already been talking to teachers planning to use to scheme to leave the profession at the end of this academic year. Teachers who thought they would be retiring in a few months must now gear up again to face another term."

Justin McCamphill, NASUWT national official for Northern Ireland, said his union would be working to support teachers affected.

"The NASUWT expects employers and schools not to react to this development by imposing any detrimental changes, including redundancies, on the workforce or changes which would affect the provision of education," he said.

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