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A day trip to Northern Ireland

During one of the Trust’s termly meetings with our Trade Union colleagues one commented on the availability of qualified teachers in Northern Ireland.

During one of the Trust’s termly meetings with our Trade Union colleagues one commented on the availability of qualified teachers in Northern Ireland. In fact, they stated that there were far too many for the available jobs. With our Trust facing a few challenges in securing quality teachers in a few areas we decided it was time to go and find out for ourselves.

In Northern Ireland the number of registered teachers in 2017 was 26,719 but only 20,165 of them had permanent or substantial contracts of a term or more. And just 15% of classroom staff were aged between 24 and 29. In our Trust, that age range represents 30% of classroom staff. Newly qualified teachers in Northern Ireland just can’t get jobs, and if they do it often means long-term supply or agency work in subjects they don’t specialise in.

When you put the two issues side by side it seems that there is an obvious solution; why aren’t we recruiting more newly qualified teachers from Northern Ireland?

On Tuesday, some of my team and I made the less than one hour flight to Belfast to take part in Ulster and Queens’ Belfast Universities’ graduate recruitment fair. As we flew, we discussed how short the journey had been, comparing it to similar commutes colleagues make from Leeds and Stoke to our head office in Manchester.

By that morning TES, Ulster radio and BBC Ulster had reported on our efforts to recruit NI teachers. All signs pointed to a successful effort at the fair, with the possibility of some new teachers joining our Trust. But what we found was surprising.

Northern Ireland’s school system works slightly differently to ours in England and the academy system isn’t one that teachers and aspiring teachers are familiar with.

One thing that everyone seemed to understand was that there are just no jobs for teachers in Northern Ireland. We spoke to one NQT who had been working as a supply teacher at a local boy’s school, but had been dropped because now GCSEs were over, he wasn’t needed. He hadn’t taught the subject he trained in in over a year, which was quote – “driving [him] mad”.

His sentiment was echoed by the numerous careers’ advisors that we spoke to; all agreed that there just weren’t enough jobs to go around. They couldn’t believe that subjects like English and mathematics were lacking teachers in England. Again, it seemed that the stars were aligning.

But there was another thing that almost everyone agreed with; there is a hesitance amongst a lot of NQTs to move away from Northern Ireland, even if it means getting a job they love. We spoke to a number of graduates who instantly dismissed us as we were not based in Northern Ireland.

As a Trust we offer help with relocation, such as loans for rental deposits and support with relocation including some return flights back to their family home.

Despite the number of qualified teachers attending the fair was fewer than we expected the knowledge we gained was invaluable. The response since has also been a fantastic bonus. The press release we issued supporting our venture resulted in 10 national and regional newspapers, 5 radio stations and ITV Calendar covering the story.

The day after the fair saw people calling asking about the vacancies they’d heard about on the radio, in the newspaper, on television or from a friend. Going forward it looks like our little trip to Belfast was a good idea after all.

So now, we reflect on how we can take what we learnt from our visit to improve drawing attention to our vacancies to qualified teachers less than an hour by plane from many of our academies.

Frank Norris

Director of the Trust