Teachers: Unions criticise minimum wage internship

By Robbie Meredith
BBC News NI Education Correspondent

Image caption,
Stranmillis University College told BBC News NI that the internships were primarily support roles under the guidance of senior staff, and not teaching posts.

Two teaching unions have strongly criticised a minimum wage internship for teachers run by Stranmillis University College in Belfast.

The college is offering two "graduate internships" at Dundonald Primary School in Belfast.

They are paid at a rate of £7.70 an hour.

The posts are for recently-qualified teachers only and involve five days work in the school each week throughout the 2019-20 school year.

The NASUWT said the scheme should be suspended immediately, while the Ulster Teachers' Union (UTU) called it "ludicrous".

Stranmillis University College told BBC News NI that the internships were primarily support roles under the guidance of senior staff and were not teaching posts.

The two jobs in Dundonald Primary School are being advertised by the college for teachers who graduate from the college between July 2018 and July 2019.

One is for a literacy teacher and one is for a numeracy teacher.

They will work full-time alongside school staff to teach small groups of pupils who need help with literacy and numeracy.

According to the job description, the posts are for "college students who have recently graduated and are preparing to enter the labour market".

Image caption,
Justin McCamphill from NASUWT said teaching should "not be a minimum wage job"

"The primary aim of the programme is to provide interns with meaningful experiences which enhance their employability and skills through their involvement in projects which meet the business needs of the college."

The salary for each post is £7.70 an hour, which is the national minimum wage for 21 to 24 year-olds.

The NASUWT Northern Ireland official Justin McCamphill said he was "incredulous" that qualified teachers were being recruited at the minimum wage.

"Teaching should not be a minimum wage job," he said.

"The job description for these posts requires the applicants to be qualified teachers and registered with the General Teaching Council of Northern Ireland.

"It is our view that they need to suspend this programme with immediate effect and properly consider what the long-term implications of this will be for the students who are currently in their care.

"This scheme may have been well intentioned, but our fear is that this could be the beginning of the race to the bottom in relation to teachers' wages."

'Race to the bottom'

Jacquie White, the general secretary of the UTU, said it "beggared belief" that newly-qualified teachers were being offered the minimum wage.

"With teachers now being expected to take on the ever-expanding responsibilities demanded of teachers today for the contemptuous sum of £7.70 an hour is so ludicrous it doesn't seem possible," she said.

"We have seen other professions where so-called internships have become the byword for cheap labour and we cannot allow this to happen in our sector."

The northern secretary of the Irish National Teachers' Organisation (INTO) Gerry Murphy also condemned the scheme, calling it a "disgrace".

"The teachers concerned should be paid the proper rate as determined by the Department of Education pay scale for teachers," he added.

"INTO will work with our trade union colleagues to ensure that this situation is brought to an end quickly."

In a statement to BBC News NI, Stranmillis University College said the internship was "primarily a support role".

"The internship role description makes it clear that they are always under the guidance and mentorship of senior staff," said the college.

"The vice-principal of the school will supervise the intern and co-ordinate their programme of work, ensuring consistency and fidelity to the agreed objectives of the programme.

"The internship provides an opportunity for those just graduating from a teaching degree to engage in projects under the guidance of an experienced practitioner."

The college also said the interns were not to be used as substitute class teachers as part of their role.