NUI Galway Study on ‘Diversity Gap’ between Student and Teacher Populations in Ireland

Photo of primary school teacher in classroom teaching children.
Sep 26 2018 Posted: 10:57 IST
NUI Galway Study on ‘Diversity Gap’ between Student and Teacher Populations in Ireland
Study raises serious questions with regard to the equity and diversity in Ireland’s future primary teaching body
Dr Manuela Heinz and Dr Elaine Keane from the School of Education in NUI Galway have carried out the first comprehensive and nationwide study in Ireland, which explores the socio-demographic backgrounds of entrants to primary teacher education programmes. The research was published this week (24 September 2018) in the peer-reviewed academic journal, Irish Educational Studies and looked at future primary teachers’ sex, nationalities, ethnicity, first language, social class, dis/ability and religious affiliations.
Key findings from The Irish Research Council funded Diversity in Initial Teacher Education (DITE) National Study: 
  • 99% of respondents identified as White Irish Settled and 100% specified either English or Irish as their first language. These figures contrast starkly with the greatly diversified pupil and general populations (Central Statistics Office, 2016: 11.6% of the population specified as non-Irish nationality, 82.2% of the population identified as White Irish Settled, and 13% of Irish residents speak a language other than English or Irish at home).
  • 8% of undergraduate primary teacher entrants declared a disability, just over half the proportion recorded for entrants to higher education (8.0%). Undergraduate primary teacher entrants with physical and/or learning disabilities are significantly underrepresented compared to disabled higher education entrants. The participation rate of individuals with a learning difficulty was also significantly higher among postgraduate post-primary teacher education entrants.
  • 4% of undergraduate primary teacher entrants were female and 17.6% were male.
  • Initial teacher education entrants claiming Irish nationality only, are significantly overrepresented compared to the general population (88.4% Irish). The total absence of individuals of non-Irish nationality is also in stark contrast with the rising percentage of residents with non-Irish nationalities in Ireland (5.8% in 2002 to 11.6% in 2016. The top ten non-Irish nationalities living in Ireland according to Census 2016 are: Polish, UK, Lithuanian, Romanian, Latvian, Brazilian, Spanish, Italian, French and German nationals.)
  • Roman Catholics are overrepresented (90%) and non-religious individuals (5%) are underrepresented in the undergraduate primary teacher entrant cohort compared to the post-primary student teacher cohort (86% Roman Catholic and 10% non-religious), and the general population in Ireland (78% Roman Catholic and 10% non-religious).
Principal Investigators of the study, Dr Manuela Heinz and Dr Elaine Keane from the School of Education at NUI Galway, highlight: “DITE’s (Diversity in Initial Teacher Education National Study) core aim is to promote a diverse and inclusive teaching profession in Ireland by informing policy makers and educational practitioners about the current ‘diversity gap’ (between pupil and teacher populations) and by promoting discussions of the benefits and challenges associated with a more diverse teaching population, as well as the barriers that may discourage or prevent individuals from underrepresented groups from considering or pursuing teaching careers in Ireland.”
The study calls for further discussion of measures that can be taken to attract and recruit more individuals from minority groups into the teaching profession. Alongside the potential academic and Irish language barriers, it challenges educators and policy makers to consider other possible barriers preventing individuals from minority backgrounds from considering entering or, indeed, successfully progressing in teaching careers (such as, the culture of Ireland’s teaching profession and schools, hiring practices in schools, career guidance practices in schools, financial issues including programme fees, living costs, access to grants and other financial supports, the religious (mostly Catholic) ethos of Irish schools and primary Institute of Technical Education institutions, negative and discriminatory experiences).
Dr Manuela Heinz, said: “Our analyses of entrance patterns to, and diversity in, undergraduate primary initial teacher education is timely and highly significant in the context of the enormous diversification of school populations in Ireland over the past two decades. It is important that we take notice of the widening ‘diversity gap’ and that we critically interrogate structures and cultural practices of the Irish education system to identify potential barriers for individuals from underrepresented groups. Some of the more obvious barriers are related to the selection system which focuses on academic achievement and which specifies competency in Irish as an essential criterion.
“For many students who are refugees, have certain learning difficulties, or have come from abroad and did not speak English when they enrolled in school, the door to primary teaching is closed early as they can be granted an exemption from the otherwise obligatory Irish instruction at school where Irish, English and Maths are essential subjects for applicants to primary teacher education programmes in Ireland, a barrier to non-Irish nationals who weren’t educated in Ireland. The predominantly denominational (and mostly Catholic) Irish primary school and initial teacher education system may act as a further deterrent for people who do not share the religious beliefs and values espoused by the great majority of primary schools as well as colleges of education.”
Dr Elaine Keane, emphasised: “For national policy on widening participation in higher education to be evidence-based and effective, participation patterns within specific professional contexts and careers must be tracked and taken into account. Our findings point to the need to identify particular target groups specific to the teaching profession, and these may differ to those identified in the National Access Plan’s target groups for widening participation in higher education more generally. Patterns of access and participation for various socio-demographic groups often vary in different professions, and this will become increasingly significant into the future, as we need to extend widening participation focus and policy to include postgraduate and employment realms – into the professions - as other countries have already done – and as we are now doing in Ireland with respect to teaching.
Dr Manuela Heinz added: “We are hoping that this research will trigger more thinking about teacher demand and supply and the characteristics and qualities we are looking for in teachers. We also need to think ahead. Hopefully we will be able to recruit more students from minority backgrounds into initial teacher education programmes in the near future. A more diverse student teacher and teaching population will challenge teacher educators as well as schools, and for teachers to critically interrogate many taken-for-granted practices, for example in relation to what and how we teach on initial teacher education programmes, what supports students from minority backgrounds may need and what adaptations may be required at school placement level.”
The study also highlights the need for research that explores career motivations and decision making of students from minority groups as well as their experiences of initial teacher education and of teaching in Ireland.
The study was funded by the Irish Research Council as part of the ‘NUI Galway Diversity in Initial Teacher Education in Ireland’ (DITE) research project. 
To read the full study in Irish Educational Studies, visit:

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