Record number of retired teachers plugging school gaps

Some schools forced to divert support teachers from special needs pupils due to shortages

Many primary schools are finding it difficult to fill gaps for career breaks and maternity leave, while secondary schools report major difficulties sourcing teachers in key subjects. File photograph: Dave Thompson/PA Wire

Many primary schools are finding it difficult to fill gaps for career breaks and maternity leave, while secondary schools report major difficulties sourcing teachers in key subjects. File photograph: Dave Thompson/PA Wire

 

The number of retired teachers returning to the classroom is set to reach a record high as schools struggle to fill gaps for short-term absences.

Many primary schools are finding it difficult to fill gaps for career breaks and maternity leave, while secondary schools report major difficulties sourcing teachers in key subjects.

The shortages mean support teachers are often taken away from special needs children, or children are crammed into classes with other students, say school managers.

Based on mid-year trends, latest official figures indicate that about 1,000 retired teachers provided cover for some 20,000 days during the 2016/2017 academic year. This represents a doubling in the volume of cover provided by retirees in the past five years.

The shortages appear to be partly linked to the volume of young teachers who are taking career breaks or emigrating to work in the Middle East, where salaries can range from €2,000-€5,500 per month tax-free.

At second level, a shortage of teachers in key subjects such as science and languages seems to be linked to job prospects available to graduates in other sectors of the economy.

Minister for Education Richard Bruton has sought to ease some of this pressure on recruitment by relaxing work restrictions for retiring teachers, along with increasing employment limits for teachers on career breaks.

He also pledged to examine whether free third-level teacher education courses should be offered to homemakers with qualifications in key subject areas.

Mr Bruton has noted that some 2,300 new teachers were successfully recruited in the last academic year, while the process of filling a further 2,900 posts in the current year is almost complete.

The Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO), however, has criticised the response of the Government to date.

Sheila Nunan, the general secretary of the INTO, said: “Headline grabbing announcements dressed up as responses to the supply and retention crisis Irish schools currently face, do nothing to resolve matters.

“The fact is the failure by government to address pay inequality is increasing the exodus of Irish teachers. Foreign governments recognise the worth of Irish teachers. The Irish Government must do likewise.”

She said supply panels of teachers available to work would help regularise substitution work.

Losing out

Fergal Kelly, a school principal and member of Catholic Primary Schools Management Association’s secretariat, said many schoolchildren were losing out as a result of shortages.

“Principals make sure children with special education needs are being looked after if at all possible, but sometimes there just aren’t enough teachers to go around, so you enlist the special education support teacher to help out. So, those who are most marginalised find it even more difficult,” he said.

Mr Kelly said many schools were also finding it difficult to find candidates to interview for permanent posts.

“A school I spoke to last week had three permanent positions and just one applicant,” he said.

One primary school on Dublin’s north side said it has had to resort to unqualified teachers because of difficulties filling career breaks and maternity leave cover.

Independent TD Maureen O’Sullivan, who chairs the school’s board of management, said employment restrictions meant that one of its classes had a new, unqualified, teacher every five days.

Another primary school in Dublin 8 said its most vulnerable students were missing out due to its inability to fill temporary positions and absences linked to sick leave.

In a message circulated by text message to retired teachers last week, the school’s principal stated: “We have two temporary positions and one maternity leave totally unfilled . . . I also have four teachers out sick today, but I cannot fill these positions.”

It added: “We are a Deis [equality of opportunity] band one school in a very deprived area catering for extremely vulnerable children who are currently missing out.”