Career breaks for teachers may be suspended or restricted as part of urgent measures by Education Minister Norma Foley to tackle staff shortages.
Ms Foley briefed Government colleagues at an unscheduled Cabinet meeting yesterday on measures to address gaps in staffing.
Under existing rules, a teacher may take a career break for a year or more which can be extended, subject to an employer’s approval, for up to five years at any one time, or 10 years in the course of a teacher’s career.
It is understood that Norma Foley's department is also examining extra personal vacation (EPV) days and ‘course’ days that a teacher can take off during the school year in return for doing a summer course.
EPV days fall into the category of non-statutory leave.
Ms Foley said her department is now considering potentially suspending or amending non-statutory leave arrangements which have the effect of creating a demand for substitute teachers in schools.
The Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) said it “deplores the lack of engagement and consultation” by Ms Foley on potential changes to teachers’ terms and conditions.
In a statement, the trade union said it has repeatedly requested an emergency meeting with the department to explore solutions to the ongoing teacher supply crisis but, to date, has not received a single response to a formal request for a meeting made some 50 days ago.
The Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) said such a move would make the job “less attractive” and ultimately “worsen the teacher recruitment crisis”.
Association of Secondary Teachers in Ireland (ASTI) general secretary Kieran Christie said teachers are “quite angry” that they were not consulted on the measures put forward by Ms Foley and she has gone on “another solo run".
He said the suspension of career breaks for teachers would be an ineffective measure and teachers who were planning on taking a career break will resign their posts knowing there will be work for them to come back to.
He said the minister, in order to retain staff, should be writing to say, “we’ll give you a permanent post if you haven’t got it already".
He said Ms Foley should also offer incremental credit if a teacher has worked abroad in countries outside of Europe.
Other measures being considered by Ms Foley include fast-tracking the registration of teachers from abroad and reducing the oversight of student teachers on placement to allow the class teacher to fill a gap elsewhere.
Ms Foley advised Cabinet that the teacher supply consultative forum would be re-evaluated to see where it could be enhanced.
Teacher supply panels at primary level are currently undergoing a review regarding their usage and effectiveness and the department has said this may lead to some modification from the current approach.
Around 800 second-year Hibernia College postgraduate Professional Master of Education students who have completed their latest school placement might be asked to do substitute work this year.