Northern Ireland news

Scheme to replace old teachers with new graduates scrapped

It was originally intended that up to 500 recently qualified graduates would replace those willing to retire early

A MULTI-million pound drive to replace hundreds of older teachers with younger staff has been scrapped.

Education minister Peter Weir said there were "no plans" to run the Investing in the Teaching Workforce scheme again.

The strategy to "re-shape the teaching workforce" was first announced five years ago.

It was originally intended that up to 500 recently qualified graduates would replace those willing to retire early. The executive was to allocate £33 million.

Mr Weir launched the scheme in 2016, but by then it was already scaled back considerably - the investment on offer dropping to just £8m and proposed numbers to 120.

It was oversubscribed, receiving 460 applications.

However, the recruitment competition was then suspended after a teacher launched a legal challenge.

He claimed he was being unlawfully excluded from applying for vacancies because of his greater experience. This was rejected at the High Court.

It was cut even further before rolling out as a pilot involving 31 staff, and at an estimated cost of just £500,000.

Money was eventually secured from the Public Sector Transformation Fund (PSTF), which assists voluntary exit initiatives in support of reform and restructuring across the public sector.

In 2018/19, this allowed up to 200 teachers' jobs to be released. The younger staff employed are mostly still in their posts.

Now, Mr Weir has confirmed that the scheme expired in March last year and there are no plans to bring it back.

He was responding to an assembly question by the DUP's William Humphrey.

"While there are currently no plans to run the scheme again, I am keen to explore the introduction of a further phase or a scheme of a similar nature during the current mandate," Mr Weir added.

Gerry Murphy, northern secretary of the INTO union, said Investing in the Teaching Workforce "made perfect sense when it was first introduced".

"It remains an innovative tool to assist in ensuring the teaching workforce is continually refreshed," Mr Murphy said.

"To dismiss it is to pass up an opportunity for this refresh to take place. Indeed the minister would be well advised to consider running it again and to give serious thought to extending it to principal teachers. It remains the best hope many of our recently qualified teachers have to gain full time employment. You would imagine that is a legacy an education minister would aspire to."

A Department of Education spokeswoman said 2018/19 was the last year in which funding was available from the PSTF.

"Any future schemes to reduce the pay bill through staff exits will have to be funded from the main education budget allocation," she said.

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