The Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) says principals in some places are struggling since last autumn to find staff for short-notice vacancies.
This follows a school year when difficulties had been expected due to shortfalls in newly qualified teachers (NQTs). That arose from the extension of the main primary teaching qualification from three to four years, meaning very few new teachers graduated in 2015.
However, the lure of overseas teaching jobs is being seen as the likely reason for shortfalls in substitutes, with only around 30 to 40 teachers available each day in recent weeks on the INTO’s sub search facility, one of a number of services intended to link principals with teachers available for substitution work in their area.
Recruitment fairs at colleges are promoting opportunities in the Middle East, but also in the UK and Australia. Teachers working in the United Arab Emirates are being recruited to schools in Dubai and Abu Dhabi with tax-free salaries of €2,500 to €5,000 a month, as well as paid flights home and medical insurance.
A consideration for many NQTs is the pay gap for those beginning their careers since 2011, with salaries still around 10% short of those for longer-serving colleagues even after a deal secured by the INTO and Teachers’ Union of Ireland in September intended to address some of the difference.
INTO assistant general secretary Peter Mullan said the pay differential is one aspect, but more stringent conditions attached to mortgages can also be a factor.
“It’s not just the terms and conditions here for young teachers that are affecting this, there are more pressures since the Central Bank changed their mortgage rules,” he said.
From two years ago, first-time buyers were required to have a deposit of at least 20% on house loans of €220,000 or over. The requirement was amended by the Central Bank last November to mean just 10% had to be paid as a deposit, regardless of the loan value, but the earlier rules may have influenced decision-making by recently qualified teachers.
“Young teachers came up with a plan to go and teach abroad for, maybe two years, and they could come back with enough for a mortgage deposit,” Mr Mullan said.
Another factor in the substitute shortage may be an increase in the taking of career breaks. Mr Mullan said the 1,568 primary teachers on such breaks this year is almost twice what it was a few years ago.
While teachers on career break should only be used as substitutes in exceptional circumstances, the Department of Education has recently agreed they may do substitute work up to 90 days in a school year, whereas the previous limit was 40 days.