Retired teachers may be encouraged back to schools to plug classroom gaps

Norma Foley says pension rules could be changed to make it more financially attractive for retirees

Plans to make it more financially attractive for retired teachers to return to the classroom are being examined in a bid to plug staffing gaps in schools.

Second level principals warned this week that teacher shortages were the “worst they have ever been” and affecting the quality of education for students across a range of subjects.

Minister for Education Norma Foley acknowledged on Friday that schools were facing challenges hiring qualified teachers in some areas.

Speaking at the annual conference of the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals (NAPD) in Galway, she said her department was examining a range of measures to help address the issue.


They include the possibility of easing restrictions on the amount of salary retired teachers can earn without it impacting on their pension.

The option of resuming Covid-era measures, which allowed existing teachers to work additional hours to provide substitution cover, are also being examined.

Ms Foley said she hoped to be in a position to make an announcement on these issues in a “very short while”.

She said she was encouraged by the fact that more than 3,000 graduates had entered the education sector this year, while CAO applications for teaching were up 10 per cent.

NAPD president Rachel O’Connor said schools were struggling with a shortage of qualified teachers in key areas, “zero substitutes” and very high levels of absenteeism.

“The teacher supply crisis is real, and we feel the burden of it everyday,” said Ms O’Connor, who is principal of Ramsgrange Community School in Co Wexford.

“I have had to reimagine many aspects of our timetable on several occasions already this year. Team teaching has been uncoupled, SEN [special educational needs] withdrawn, our deputy principal alone has already covered hours and hours of classes on days where we simply cannot get cover,” she said.

Ms O’Connor said many qualified teachers had moved abroad, “earning money tax-free”, while graduates were “leaving in droves” due to the cost-of-living crisis and high rents.

Ms Foley, meanwhile, said she was “totally committed” to progressing senior cycle reforms.

She was acutely aware of students whose strengths do not lie with written exams but whose ability to deliver a speech, make a presentation, conduct an experiment were “unrivalled”.

This was why new Leaving Cert subjects such as drama and sustainability were being introduced, while there will be a new drive to include apprenticeship taster modules in transition year.

Ms Foley said she was committed to moving Leaving Cert Irish and English paper one to the end of fifth year for students beginning senior cycle next year in order to spread the assessment load.

She also said she wanted to work in partnership with teachers over plans for them to assess up to 40 per cent of their students’ marks for the Leaving Cert.

“I would be foolish not to learn from the Junior Cycle – I would be very foolish. I was part of that, I was there when all of that unfolded, so I want to do it differently, I want to do it better.

“Probably the most difficult [reform] will be the 40 per cent teacher assessment, I know that... I would say we will work through all that, it will be externally moderated, we will work through it with network schools, I really want schools to feel they are part of this, that there is a shared vision and a shared ownership,” she said.

She added: “Now is the time – and if now isn’t the time, I do not know when will be the time... This is first, last, always about the students.”

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent