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Third of student teachers have financial difficulties

A research carried out by Melanie Ní Dhuinn and Andrew Loxley of Trinity College Dublin and Mark Prendergast of University College Cork, found that typically, those in training were down an average of €151 a week between what they spent and what they earned.

More than a third of student teachers have experienced "serious" or "very serious" financial difficulties, to the extent where some have considered dropping out of the training process.

The findings are based on the experiences of 391 second-level student teachers enrolled in the Professional Master of Education (PME) programme, with many having to resort to family and friends to help them out financially.

According to one participant: "I’m spending all the money I have in the world."

Worries about money

According to the study, more than 70% of student teachers either "often" or "very often" worried about having enough money for regular expenses. 

It found 73% of participants believed working for pay interfered with their academic performance and 35% of participants indicated they were currently experiencing "serious" or "very serious" financial difficulties.

According to the study: "44% of students in this study stated that they had considered dropping out due to financial stress".

The majority of respondents (57%) reported they were full/part-time students and when asked how they funded their PME programme, the most common response was family/partner (41%). 

Students whose parents/guardians had a joint income below €35,000 were less likely to rely on support from their family/partner and were much more likely (33% of this group) to rely on a loan from a financial institution.

The mean expenditure per week was estimated at €423, with more than one-third of this spent on accommodation.

According to the research: "Overall, 76% of participants were paid for work carried out in schools while on school placement. The majority of this (84%) was substitution teaching work (eg, covering classes for absent members of staff) and overall ranged from 1 to 20 hours per week (with a mean of 4.7 hours); an average payment of €119 per week.

"A high number of participants (71%) also worked outside of the school setting while registered on the program. This was commonly in the hospitality sector (29%) and overall ranged from one to 35 hours per week (mean of 13.1 hours).

Weekly deficit of €151

"Thus, taking students’ mean weekly income against their expenditure, on average, students had a weekly deficit of €151 over the course of the two-year PME program."

One interviewee said they had been experiencing panic attacks for two years due to financial stress and another said: "My mental wellbeing suffers as a result of the work and study needed, and my study suffers as a result of needing to support myself financially... it’s been months since I've had a day off, and while I’m coping, I’m reaching the end of my tether."

Suggestions made to remedy the situation included being paid for teaching and substitution while on placement and lowering the cost of the course.

The authors said the data "undoubtedly illustrates the high and unsustainable levels of financial stress that Irish student teachers find themselves under".

They also referred to "serious concerns around its long-term sustainability in terms of teacher supply if the issues of financial stress and debt for student teachers are not meaningfully and strategically addressed."

The Irish Examiner