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07 Dec 2021

Department of Education 'needs to be more upfront' - Schools speak out amid substitute crisis

'They need to be more upfront with this issue' - Schools speak out amid substitute crisis

'They need to be more upfront with this issue' - Schools speak out amid substitute crisis

Primary schools are continuing to face a short supply of substitute teachers across the country.

Speaking on Newstalk, Matt Melvin, Principal of St Etchens National School spoke to Pat Kenny about the shortage of substitute teachers.

Mr. Melvin said it became more acute as the year went on and it will only get worse when schools come back from Midterm.

"The week before midterm I had two teachers out for two days, so that was four days I could not get cover," he added.

He said the Department of Education needs to be more upfront about this issue.

Mr. Melvin believes that students in teacher training colleges need to be allowed to work in schools to help alleviate pressure.

"We have a large cohort of 3rd/4th-year students in teacher training colleges that are restricted to work less than 5 days in schools, and if there was flexibility brought in urgently on a conditional and provisional basis, it would get us over a considerable challenge until March." added Mr. Melvin.

John Weir, principal of St. Mary's primary school in Drogheda spoke on Today with Claire Byrne about his experience at sourcing substitutes.

He said it is almost impossible to find a sub at the moment. 

"We have a local network of schools here, in the month of September alone out of 35 schools, we had 300 days where we could not source a sub." added the primary school principal.

St. Mary's school is on a supply panel of teachers which only works for expected absences. The next day he can get a sub is November 17, and for their rural Drogheda panel, the next available date is in January.

Mr. Weir said the only thing keeping the system afloat is using special-education teachers to substitute classes which 'no principal wants to do'.

Mr. Weir has not been in a position where he has had to let a class go home, and said that it is not something any principal wants to do and there would have to be absolutely no other option.

President of the Irish Primary Principals' Network, Brian O'Doherty said that while the challenge is not new, it is more pronounced with the circumstances they are operating in.

The IPPN said one measure that was introduced to help schools with absence levels was the supply panel, a scheme to allow big schools to recruit 2 or 3 teachers to provide substitute cover for a stipulated amount of schools.

Those teachers have the benefit of being on a fixed-term contract with security around income, and the school has the security of contacting those teachers to provide cover for short-term absences.

Not every school has access to those panels and there is insufficient capacity within those panels to meet the demands presented at the moment, according to Brian O'Doherty.

Mr. O'Doherty said 55% of primary school principals are teaching principals and therefore, cannot step into substitute positions if required to do so and supervision is not a workable solution 

The question being asked by the IPPN and primary school teachers is what's a school to do if there are multiple absences, no sub cover available and the school does not have the facility to re-deploy.

Progress has been made after meeting with the Department of Education with the view of increasing substituting capacity within the system, according to the IPPN. 

The Teaching Council has emailed teachers on the register requesting that anyone in a position to provide substitute cover would make themselves available to do so.

Mr. O'Doherty understands that there are plans to increase the supply panels but 'if there aren't sufficient teachers available to fill those posts then that's going to be an ongoing difficulty'.

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