Northern Ireland

Newly-qualified teachers scheme is suspended

Classroom
Image caption The scheme was intended to bring younger teachers into the workforce

A scheme to replace older teaching staff with newly-qualified teachers has been suspended, the Department of Education (DE) has said.

The Investing in the Teaching Workforce programme aimed to allow up to 120 teachers over the age of 55 to retire early in 2016/17.

They were to be replaced by teachers who had graduated since 2012, but the scheme is facing a legal challenge.

DE said it would not take place in the 2016/17 academic year as envisaged.

Excluded from the scheme

The BBC understands that a teacher excluded from the scheme, because they qualified prior to 2012, is seeking to have the criteria judicially reviewed.

In a statement announcing the decision, DE said: "The legal challenge relates to the scheme stipulation that applications for replacement teaching positions will be open to recently-qualified teachers."

"The applicant believes that this is unlawful age-related discrimination."

The hearing is expected to take place in May 2017.

The BBC understands about 100 senior teachers had been told they could retire under the scheme in June.

Image caption The scheme was announced in 2015 by then education minister John O'Dowd

They will now be told that is not possible.

Additionally, schools that were planning to recruit younger teachers to replace them from September 2017 will now stop that process.

Avril Hall Callaghan, general secretary of the Ulster Teachers' Union said: "This amounts to the worst possible news coming at the worst possible time, when teacher morale is at an all-time low.

"Members are reeling. Just when you think things can't get any worse for our profession the Department of Education launches this salvo."

Lack of agreement

The scheme was originally announced in 2015 by then education minister John O'Dowd, but was delayed due to lack of agreement over the criteria, including the definition of the term "newly-qualified".

His successor, Peter Weir, announced a revised scheme would go ahead in June 2016.

However, that scheme has now been suspended until at least the 2017/18 school year.

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