Up to 90% of primary schools are finding themselves unable to cover teacher absences
The Minister for Education has announced a range of measures aimed at tackling the teacher shortage in both primary and secondary schools.
Richard Bruton has been addressing the Irish Primary Principals’ Network (IPPN) Annual Principals’ Conference in Dublin this morning.
In his speech, the minister acknowledged the difficulties facing schools around the country - with school managers warning staff shortages are now reaching crisis levels.
Secondary schools have reported difficulties recruiting teachers in key subjects including Irish, maths and physics - while up to 90% of the country's catholic primary schools are struggling to recruit substitutes to cover short-term absences.
"I fully acknowledge the concerns that have been expressed in recent times about teacher supply," said Minister Bruton.
He suggested the substitute shortage in primary can be linked to the "large expansion in the number of permanent jobs being created" in the system.
Minister @RichardbrutonTD announces several measures to tackle a shortage of teachers in both primary & secondary schools @IPPN_Education conference. More on @NewstalkFM @TodayFMNews pic.twitter.com/fDR9U6GqLV— Paul Quinn (@pdquinn7) January 26, 2018
He said that, from today, restrictions on the amount of time teachers can work in substitute roles while on a career break will be temporarily lifted.
Previously, under the Career Break Scheme schools were only allowed to appoint teachers on a career break to substitute roles "in exceptional circumstances" and for a maximum of 90 days in a school year.
Secondly, the department will issue an instruction to schools "emphasising that a career break should not be granted unless the school is in a position to fill the temporary vacancy that would be created."
There are currently over 1,700 primary teachers and 557 secondary teachers on career breaks - despite the ongoing staff shortages.
"I know that schools and boards of management will take seriously their responsibility in this area," he said.
"It is worth saying that the purpose of the Career Break Scheme, as set out on my Department’s website, is to facilitate personal development, voluntary service overseas, childcare or self-employment.
"These are important and worthwhile. However, its purpose is not to facilitate someone taking another fulltime job, while retaining the right to return to their former teaching job at any point for up to 5 years."
"Neither was it the intention of this scheme to facilitate people going on a career break very shortly after being appointed."
The Minister noted that managing teacher supply at secondary level is "far more complex" given the wide range of subject choices availability.
He said the system for allocating places on Professional Master of Education (PME) courses needs to be overhauled, adding that the department is considering introducing 'subject quotas' in order to ensure that there are enough teachers qualifying for every subject.
Pointing to the shortage of teachers in STEM (Science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects as well as Irish and foreign languages, he said the changes will, "attract students to areas of need and make it easier for schools to fill positions, by providing a guarantee of a certain number of places in each of these areas."
He also called for the undergraduate route to becoming a second level teacher to be expanded and targeted at areas of shortage.
He said the department is also considering how to introduce “top up” or conversion courses to upskill existing teachers to teach subjects where there are shortages.
A Teacher Supply Steering Group will be established to consider teacher supply issues at both primary and post primary level.
Meanwhile, in the Dáil last night, a Fianna Fáil motion calling on the Government to set down a roadmap for a return to full pay equality for recently qualified teachers received the support of all parties except Fine Gael.
The motion also called for a new recruitment and advertising campaign aimed at bringing home young Irish teachers who are working abroad.
During the debate Fianna Fáil education spokesperson said there needs to be a long term solution to the ongoing crisis in teacher supply.
"This is the issue that teachers are talking about; principals are talking to us about; this is an issue that is crucial for this country," he said.
"The whole foundation of our economy, of our society, of our nation is founded on education.
"It is what got us up the ladder as a country. Individually, but nationally as country as well and we really need to take it seriously."
The country's three main teacher unions have warned that pay inequality is causing a crisis in teacher recruitment and retention.
The unions have warned that the two-tier system has seen a sharp fall in applications to teacher education courses - alongside an increase in teacher emigration.