Career breaks for teachers could be suspended under plans being considered by the Government in response to a shortage of qualified staff in schools.
Many primary schools say they are struggling to find substitute cover and second level schools face acute challenges finding qualified teachers in key subjects.
It is understood that Minister for Education Norma Foley received approval for a number of actions aimed at tackling the problem following Cabinet discussions yesterday.
The option of suspending or amending career breaks, or non-statutory leave arrangements, for new applicants is under consideration. 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.
The latest available figures indicate that about 2,375 teachers are on a career break. Teaching unions say many of those on leave have been recruited overseas, in particular to the Middle East and UK.
The measures come ahead of a private members’ motion in the Dáil on Wednesday which will call for a range of measures to address the “serious shortage” of teachers in primary and secondary schools. Ms Foley, who is attending an OECD’s council of education ministers in Paris, will not be present.
Social Democrats education spokesman Gary Gannon TD said: “The recruitment crisis facing our schools has the potential to impact our most vulnerable students. It is of particular concern that schools are having to redeploy special education teachers to plug the gaps in mainstream classes.”
A recent Teachers’ Union of Ireland survey found that 91 per cent of post-primary schools experienced teacher recruitment difficulties in the past six months, while 61 per cent reported teacher retention issues.
At primary level, the Irish Primary Principals Network (IPPN), said a recent survey of members found that more than 80 per cent of school leaders are struggling to plug staffing gaps by redeploying their special education teachers to mainstream classes.
Most agree that the recruitment has been hampered by high accommodation costs, particularly in Dublin and the commuter-belt areas.
Teachers’ unions responded negatively to reports of a potential suspension of career breaks.
The Irish National Teachers’ Organisation said the proposal was “nothing more than a distraction from the broader issues”, while the Teachers’ Union of Ireland said such a step would “make the profession less attractive and ultimately worsen the teacher recruitment crisis”.
Department of Education sources say a host of other measures are being considered including fast-tracking the registration of teachers from abroad.
Officials are in contact with universities and teacher education providers to maximise the availability of postgraduate students to undertake substitution work for the remaining school year.
One option being examined is to allow teachers who would normally supervise students in the classroom to be made available for substitution work within the school.
The Teaching Council has been asked to consider the temporary reintroduction of facilitating UK-trained teachers undertaking their induction in Ireland, which was offered during Covid-19.
In addition, the Teaching Council is being requested to carry out a review of the registration process for those qualified outside the State.
Teacher supply panels – which employ substitutes on a full-time basis to release to primary schools – are undergoing a review regarding their usage and effectiveness.
While these panels have been expanded in recent time, it has emerged that many places on panels in Dublin, especially, have been lying vacant.
It is understood the review may lead to some modification from the current approach in terms of how panels are used and how recruitment for the panels operates.
At second level, there will be a push to incentivise and support schools employing a teacher on less than full hours to use the teacher sharing scheme as a means of filling such vacancies.
Until now, at least, the scheme – which allows schools to share subject teachers – has not been widely used. School say this is due to the challenge of trying to align timetables across different schools.
Department sources also say existing upskilling programmes in priority subject areas such as Irish will be expanded, with requirement that those who graduates are deployed to teach these subjects in schools.