Schools could close if ‘austerity’ hours end, department warns

Removing unpaid hours could exacerbate pressure on teacher supply

Schools could be forced to close on foot of Government plans to eliminate additional working hours, the Department of Education has warned. Photograph: iStock

Schools could be forced to close on foot of Government plans to eliminate additional working hours, the Department of Education has warned. Photograph: iStock

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Schools could be forced to close on foot of Government plans to eliminate additional working hours introduced across the public service nearly a decade ago, the Department of Education has warned.

Tens of thousands of teachers provide unpaid supervision and substitution duties in schools for up to 43 hours a year on foot of austerity-era cost savings.

However, the Government has agreed to begin rolling back these additional working hours for the public sector which were introduced under the then Haddington Road accord with trade unions.

The department has warned in an unpublished document that rolling back additional hours for teachers’ supervision and substitution duties could have major implications for schools.

It states that “any change could potentially result in class/school closures.”

It also maintains that removing these hours could “exacerbate existing pressure on teacher supply/supervision”.

Schools are currently struggling to find enough qualified teachers to provide substitution cover due to high rates of sick leave linked to the Covid-19 pandemic.

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Principals recently warned of school or class closures if these shortages worsen.

The Department of Education submission was originally provided last summer to an independent body chaired by the former head of the Workplace Relations Commission Kieran Mulvey. It is due to report by the end of the year.

Asked whether there had been any change in its view in the interim, a spokesman for the department this week said: “The Department of Education position on these matters is as set out in the submission to the independent hours body.”

The Government has agreed to provide €150 million next year to pay for recommendations arising from this body.

Further education

The department has also warned that unwinding additional hours could result in a reduction in opening hours for further education services.

It says further education and training services have “become dependent on the additional resourcing provided under Haddington Road.

“This has increased the hours worked by co-ordinators, resource and administration support staff. A reduction in hours across further education services will directly impact current service delivery, including a potential reduction in opening hours.”

“There are a number of FET [further education and training] grades which only provide direct services, for example instructors in training centres who train apprentices, technicians, and psychologists. “

The department submission suggests a scaling back in hours could lead to direct reduction in class contact and tuition time.

The Government agreement this year to move towards rolling back the additional Haddington Road hours represented a change of policy as up to then such productivity measures were considered to be permanent.

The Irish Times reported last month that the Department of Public Expenditure had estimated that the cost of eliminating additional, unpaid working hours introduced for staff across the public service as part of austerity measures nearly a decade ago would be €645 million a year.

It said this is the equivalent of 10,952 additional full-time employees.

Public-service trade unions have disputed the Department of Public Expenditure cost estimates.