Substitution funding decision ‘a planning nightmare’

SCHOOLS face planning nightmares trying to arrange important exam-related and other activities as there is no certainty over funding for substitution cover after Christmas.

Since January 2009, second-level schools have been given a set number of substitution hours to cover teachers on uncertified sick leave or on official school business, depending on the number of students.

This allows teachers to take classes on such activities as field trips for geography, gallery visits for art students or to theatres to see performances of dramas being studied for the Junior or Leaving Certificate.

But the allocation for the school year only covers until the end of December, a 15-week period or just under half the entire second-level calendar, until further information is received from the department.

Although the sanctioned substitution hours being notified can be spread across the entire school year, school boards say it makes life impossible for those trying to plan school trips and other activities.

The Joint Managerial Body (JMB), which represents the boards of almost 400 second-level schools has raised serious concerns on the issue with Education Minister Ruairi Quinn and his officials, and has said it will make further representations seeking certainty on the availability of substitution cover for the rest of the school year.

“Such a decision places school management in an impossible situation in planning the school calendar for the full school year. In particular, such uncertainty hinders planning for co-curricular and extra-curricular activities for the remaining 18 weeks of the year, from January 9 to June 1, 2012,” the JMB wrote to member schools.

The allocation system allows a school to claim payment for 0.31 hours of substitution for each student enrolled to cover uncertified sick leave and official school business undertaken by teachers.

But while this would have given a 400-student school over 120 hours for the full year, it will now only be allocated just under half that amount, coming to 57 hours.

The department told the JMB last week that a decision will be taken “at a later stage” on the allocation for substitution cover from January 2012 to the end of the school year.

A spokesperson told the Irish Examiner that the current allocation of substitution hours was being made to the end of the calendar year in the context of ongoing budgetary deliberations. The annual cost of substitution for second-level schools, not including about 240 vocational schools, is €56 million.

The substitution arrangements were introduced after the first term of the 2009/2010 school year, during which cutbacks by former education minister Batt O’Keeffe placed a ban on paid substitution for these activities.

While it has allowed for some alleviation of the difficulties, particularly in preparation for exam subjects, the overall restrictions have significantly cut the amount of travel to sports and other extra-curricular activities during school time. This has reduced disruption to lesson times and savings on substitution costs for the department.


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