PRIMARY schools should have hundreds more qualified teachers in place this year as strike warnings issue to schools about employing unqualified people.
The Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) decided in April to ban its 35,000 members from this month from working alongside anybody given teaching work who was not qualified to do so .
The directive was not due to take effect until 2013 but the worsening problems facing thousands of unemployed teachers and the emergence of numbers of unqualified personnel earlier this year brought about pressure to speed up the ban.
In the last school year, 152 of the country’s 3,300 primary schools hired more than 160 people unqualified to teach at primary level for at least half the 183 days of the school year, including 50 people who worked for at least six months.
But most of the 2,000 people who graduated as primary teachers this year and thousands more recent graduates are struggling to get regular work.
Education Minister Ruairi Quinn has promised to implement a section of the Teaching Council Act, which would mean nobody who is not registered as a teacher could be paid to take classes at primary or second level. That is not expected to happen for a number of months but he has also issued stricter guidelines to schools on the order in which they can employ people to cover short and medium-term teaching vacancies.
Schools must give priority to those qualified to teach at primary level, including retired teachers if necessary, followed by those qualified to work in another education sector.
Only after efforts to find anyone from these categories are unsuccessful will a school board be allowed to employ an unqualified person to teach, and then for only one week at a time.
But a separate INTO directive issued to schools precludes a principal from certifying anybody not registered with the Teaching Council as competent to act in a teaching capacity.
In the event the directive is breached, INTO members in a school would be balloted for strike, but only after union representative verifies a complaint and notifies the school board of the intended ballot.
INTO general secretary Sheila Nunan said that while some progress has been made on unqualified personnel working as teachers, hundreds were still being employed by schools.
“This is entirely unacceptable, particularly in the context where qualified primary teachers available for work are not in employment,” she said.
The Croke Park agreement requires members not to engage in industrial action but it is hoped that the threat of strike in schools will ensure strict compliance with the directive.
However, despite the setting up of a website by the union to help principals source qualified substitutes and a number of similar web and phone services already operating, some principals say it is not always possible to secure a qualified teacher at very short notice.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved