No shortage of the well-qualified
For many years the issue was unemployment among newly-qualified teachers, but cuts in college intakes have created a reasonable balance. The latest annual survey of leavers, published in 1994, showed that only 1.3 per cent were still seeking a teaching post six months after graduating.
Ninety-two per cent of the newly-qualifieds entered the profession, the highest figure since the Northern Ireland Council for Educational Research began the surveys in 1978. One important change since then, however, is that the ratio of permanent to temporary posts has changed from 3:1 to roughly equal numbers.
The education department has got quite a precise statistical model, which takes account of projected pupil numbers, course failure rates, wastage rates from the profession and female returners. It is easy to get the right supply of teachers because Northern Ireland is self-contained. Most students come from the province and, in the latest year, 93 per cent of those who found posts did so in Northern Ireland.
If there is a shortage of teachers in England, few Northern Ireland ones will fill the gap because the survey found that only 4 per cent were willing to go to Britain.
Unlike England, there is no shortage of well-qualified people wanting to enter teaching. Queen's University, the main supplier to secondary schools, has many more applying than it has space for. There are normally between six and eight applications for each place.
Stranmillis College, which supplies the controlled (Protestant) sector, mostly on the primary side, got 1,030 applicants last year for 140 places - the highest number for almost 20 years. Its Catholic counterpart, St Mary's, has already interviewed more than 1,000 people seeking 135 places this year.
Employers' bodies foresee only minor problems. The North Eastern Board, the largest of the five, said applications for science posts had fallen while the Southern Board said its schools sometimes had difficulty finding teachers in physics and craft, design and technology.
Teacher supply in the Catholic sector is good, though some of its 530 schools sometimes have to re-advertise science vacancies. Such problems are, however, exceptional.