Schools forced to hire students to tackle teacher shortages

Students’ subject choice and quality of teaching at risk, warn school managers

Secondary schools need to hire students in order to tackle an acute shortage of qualified teachers for key subjects such as Irish, maths and modern languages, according to school managers.

The president of the Association of Community and Comprehensive Schools will tell its annual convention on Friday that students’ subject choice and the quality of teaching is at risk unless teacher supply is tackled.

Antoinette Nic Gearailt said pupils' education was, in many cases, being disrupted due to difficulties such as a lack of applicants for teaching jobs or the withdrawal of appointed candidates faced with an array of job offers.

Hiring qualified substitute staff for sick leave or other forms of leave was a “near impossibility”, she said.



In a new development this year, Ms Nic Gearailt said schools were unable to fill 12-month contracts across a range of core subjects such as languages, maths, science and home economics.

“Schools lost teachers as they were about to re-open, leaving students without teachers at the start of the new term or resulting in major timetable changes that put a huge burden of work on principals and deputy principals,” she said.

A survey of its member schools this year found that the pattern was repeated in “almost all regions with Dublin being especially problematic”.

“Principals went to extraordinary lengths to ensure students had teachers. But many would say that the piece-meal solutions put in place are not sustainable when students are not being taught consistently by the same teachers,” said Ms Nic Gearailt.

The association’s president gave the example of one school which was unable to fill a vacancy caused by the retirement of a physics teacher despite advertising on two occasions.

The retired teacher came back to teach the Leaving Cert year, while other classes were rotated.

Six weeks into the school year, it succeeded in appointing a teacher qualified to teach biology/maths only, but who was willing to teach physics. Three weeks later, she said, this teacher got a job with her degree subjects and left.

The school was forced to rely on the retired teacher for its Leaving Cert class and a trainee teacher for the rest of the year.

“The same school was without a career guidance teacher for 3½ months following maternity leave. This example could be replicated in many schools,” she said.

Substitute rules

While she said Minister of Education Richard Bruton had relaxed some of the rules around hiring substitutes, there was an urgency to go much further.

She said students in the second year of their post-graduate teacher training courses were, technically, qualified and should be allowed to work for longer hours.

Many of these students were working part-time jobs to sustain themselves financially.

She said rules around the employment of retired teachers should also be relaxed further, while she called for a big focus to hire teachers who have emigrated.

“There are thousands of Irish graduates working abroad, some of whom might be encouraged to return if the terms, conditions and career prospects were sufficiently attractive,” she said.

Ms Nic Gearailt said the registration process for teachers from other jurisdictions should be made less laborious and costly, while the length and cost of post-graduate teacher training courses should be addressed.

Mr Bruton is due to address the association’s convention on Friday.

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