The Irish Primary Principals’ Network (IPPN) said the responses of its members about recruitment difficulties for their schools suggest the substitute shortage is reaching crisis proportions.
At the IPPN annual conference today, Education Minister Richard Bruton will announce his department is lifting restrictions on the ability of teachers on career break to undertake substitution work.
However, schools will also be asked to only allow teachers to take career breaks if they can fill the temporary vacancy that would be created.
Teachers are allowed to take career breaks of at least one year, but this can be extended annually up to five years.
These breaks require school board approval and are generally intended to facilitate issues like personal development, caring duties, public representation, or volunteering overseas.
Mr Bruton will tell principals that the one-year temporary contracts which schools offer to cover such breaks do not appeal to prospective candidates when there are growing numbers of permanent jobs.
IPPN president, David Ruddy, said schools are struggling to fill substitution contracts like maternity leave and career breaks, as well as short-notice vacancies caused by staff illness.
He said special needs provision is suffering because some of the country’s 3,300 primary schools are being forced to use support teachers where they cannot cover absences, and that the situation has deteriorated alarmingly since schools reopened this month.
The network also believes shortages are not a short-term problem as current teacher numbers will need to be maintained.
“While the demographics of pupils at primary level are peaking at present, it is not envisaged that there will be a significant decline in these numbers for at least four years,” Mr Ruddy said.
Responding to this week’s Fianna Fáil motion on teacher supply, which was defeated by a Government counter-motion in the Dáil on Wednesday, Mr Bruton said the output from courses to become a primary or second-level teacher has remained constant in the last five years, while nearly 9,000 new teaching positions have seen overall numbers employed rise to 66,500.
The minister will today outline his thinking on how to address shortages of second-level teachers in particular subject areas, but will not introduce any measures until a steering group he plans to set up has met.
Mr Bruton will tell the IPPN conference that guaranteed quotas of postgraduate places for prospective teachers of certain subjects like those in the science, technology and maths (STEM) fields, Irish and foreign languages might attract more students to apply.
He would also like to see the number of places doubled for undergraduate courses, open to school-leavers, to become second-level teachers.
Financial incentives to improve the uptake of certain teaching courses will also be considered, but Mr Bruton will await the deliberations of the teacher supply steering group on issues at primary and second-level.
It is almost seven months since he published a Teaching Council report, which his department received in late 2015, on how to match graduate numbers with the needs of schools.
IPPN chief, Páiric Clerkin, said restoring equal pay for all teachers would encourage our graduate teachers to stay at home and take up work here: “Pay inequality, coupled with the cost of living allied to the activities of recruitment agencies targeting third-level institutions, is resulting in hundreds of newly-qualified teachers trained at taxpayers’ expense being lured to work in foreign countries.”