Schools should never use special education teachers as substitutes, the Education Minister has told The Hard Shoulder.
Norma Foley said several measures have been put in place to ensure schools always have access to substitute teachers.
She said that if schools are still having issues sourcing substitutes they have not flagged the issue with her department.
She was speaking after school principals contacted The Hard Shoulder warning that they were being forced to use special education teachers as substitutes because it is too difficult to find cover.
Minister Foley said there are now more than 380 teachers employed on a full-time basis throughout the country to step in as subs when needed.
On top of that, she said substitutes are available through the sub-seeker portal and the Department is encouraging teachers who work part-time or are on career breaks to make themselves available.
She said the practice of using special education teachers as substitutes was only acceptable during the height of the pandemic and should no longer be happening.
“It is not best practice in any shape or form for a special education teacher to be withdrawn from class,” she said.
“It worked last year in terms of all the various measures we put in place, but it was seen as an exceptional measure last year.
“We are in a very different situation this year. The vast majority of our staff in schools are fully vaccinated.
“We do have the availability and we have extended our substitution panels. If there ais a specific issue in a specific area, where principals have specific challenges, then I would suggest they would make themselves available to the principal helpline.
“This issue has not been flagged with the principal helpline and we also engage on an ongoing basis with all of the representative bodies and again this is not an issue that has been flagged.”
When Kieran Cuddihy put it to her that The Hard Shoulder has spoken to principals up and don the country who are struggling to access substitutes, Minister Foley said it is not happening “to the degree that you have raised.”
“We are not in the situation we were in last year [due to] staff being more available because of vaccination,” she said.
“I do believe it is only right that the special education teacher who is employed to work with children who have particular challenges, that that special education teacher as a priority would be made available to those students.”
She noted that children with particular challenges are “deserving of having their special education teacher in place at the time they would need to be taught by that teacher.”
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