The teaching profession continues to attract high achievers while diversity remains a challenge

A new report, published today (10 November) by the ESRI and the Teaching Council, provides new information on the profiles of entrants to undergraduate (concurrent) and postgraduate (consecutive) courses of Initial Teacher Education (ITE) in Ireland. The report was commissioned by the Teaching Council to inform its advice to the Minister regarding the minimum requirements for entry to programmes of initial teacher education.

Entry to Programmes of Initial Teacher Education, by Dr. Merike Darmody and Prof. Emer Smyth (ESRI), draws on a number of data sources including data from the State Examinations Commission; the Central Applications Office; the Postgraduate Applications Centre and individual higher education institutions.

The findings of the study can be grouped under three main headings: demand for college places on teacher education courses, the profile of entrants into ITE, and requirements for entry. With regard to the latter, the specific focus of the research was on:

  • Entry to primary programmes of initial teacher education (at undergraduate and postgraduate level, and with a specific focus on applicants from Gaeltacht areas)
  • Entry to undergraduate programmes for post-primary teaching

How popular are teacher education courses?

  • A high demand for places in teacher education programmes in Ireland results in strong competition for places on both primary and post-primary programmes.
  • The demand for undergraduate ITE courses, both primary and post-primary, is high relative to other courses, with only health-related courses having a higher level of demand. Despite difficulties in accessing teaching jobs, the number of CAO applicants who list a teaching course in primary education as their first preference has remained relatively stable in recent years.
  • The demand for places on postgraduate courses for primary and post-primary teacher education is also high but varies across higher education institutions. There is some evidence of a decline in demand in recent years, with the move to a two-year programme, possibly due to the cost involved.

What is the profile of student teachers?

  • Due to a very high level of demand for places, entrants to ITE courses have very high achievement levels.
  • A significant proportion of those who enter ITE courses for primary education have 500 or more Leaving Certificate points.
  • There is less information available on the profile of those entering postgraduate teacher education courses but all candidates have a primary degree (or equivalent) and a significant proportion also have postgraduate qualifications.
  • Entrants to primary and post-primary ITE are disproportionately female, though slightly less so at post-primary level.
  • The student intake on teacher education courses tends to be young, mostly entering immediately after school or their primary degree.
  • Students who enter primary teacher courses are more likely to be socially advantaged than those on other higher education courses (such as Arts/Social Science). They are less likely to have attended a disadvantaged school, to be in receipt of a higher education grant, to be non-Irish or to have entered through an alternative route (such as FETAC).
  • The profile of students taking post-primary undergraduate teaching courses is somewhat more diverse than that of primary ITE entrants. However, those from non-Irish backgrounds and those who had attended disadvantaged schools are under-represented among the intake.
  • There is currently a lack of information available on the social profile of those entering postgraduate teaching courses, making it difficult to assess diversity among this population.

Requirements for entry

  • From 2017, the system of grading for the Leaving Certificate will be changed with implications for the calculation of CAO points.
  • Countries differ in how they select among applicants to teacher education courses, typically using school qualifications, interviews and/or aptitude tests. There is no firm evidence that particular selection mechanisms produce the ‘best’ teachers. However, countries that have greater demand for teacher education places have higher-achieving entrants.
  • In response to potential concerns about teacher quality, there have been proposals to change the entry criteria used for selecting student teachers in Ireland.
  • At primary level, this proposal would involve higher grade requirements in Maths, Irish and English. Analyses indicate that without sufficient notice to the applicants, this would dramatically reduce the number of school leavers eligible for entry to ITE courses and would particularly reduce entry rates among more disadvantaged groups.
  • At post-primary level, this proposal would require those entering undergraduate courses in specific fields (such as Science) to have taken the related subject(s) at Leaving Certificate level. This would significantly reduce the pool of potential candidates in some areas.
  • Approximately 10 per cent of the places in ITE are reserved for Gaeltacht entrants. A grant known as ‘Scéim Labhairt na Gaeilge’, formerly used as a means of confirming Irish language competence, has been discontinued and while the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht plays a role in helping to assess candidates, many stakeholders considered that clarity is needed in the procedures involved and in the relative responsibilities of the Department of Education and Skills and the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.

One of the report authors, Dr Merike Darmody, said:
"Despite challenges experienced by the teaching profession in recent years, teaching as a profession continues to be popular among young people in Ireland and entrants are generally high achievers. However, there is a need to consider entry routes that recognise the current lack of diversity in the teaching profession in  Ireland and promote this career path among members of communities that are traditionally under-represented in teaching.”

Tomás O Ruairc, Director  of the Teaching Council said:

"As the professional standards body for teaching in Ireland, we very much welcome the findings in this report which highlight the fact that teaching remains an attractive profession with a high calibre of entrant We acknowledge however the questions that the findings raise in relation to the diversity of the teaching profession. This report can help us ensure that we maintain the highest of standards in teaching and learning, while fostering an inclusive and diverse profession."