Secondary schools consider dropping languages due to teacher shortages

Oireachtas committee will hear schools are being forced to hire ‘inappropriate’ staff

Some secondary schools are considering dropping languages such as French, Spanish and German due to a “crisis” in the supply of teachers, according to school managers.

The Association of Community and Comprehensive Schools will tell an Oireachtas committee that "the integrity of student tuition time is being seriously undermined" due to staff shortages across key subjects.

“There must be qualified subject teachers in every classroom if students are to receive a quality education,” the association says in a submission to the committee.

“There must also be an expectation that, if a teacher is absent for a period, there will be a substitute teacher available qualified and capable of replacing that teacher. However, this is far from the current reality in schools.”

It says secondary schools initially experienced increasing difficulty filling vacant teaching positions in a limited number of subjects, but it was now across a wide range of subject areas.

“Employment of short-term substitutes is almost impossible in most schools throughout the country. Increasingly students are being taught by teachers unqualified in the subject area or are being just ‘supervised’ in the absence of a teacher.”

Teachers’ union and school management bodies are set to outline the impact of teacher shortages at both primary and secondary level at Tuesday’s Oireachtas committee.

Minister for Education Richard Bruton has acknowledged there are "pinch points" in some subjects, and shortages of substitute teachers at primary level. However, he says his department has successfully hired more than 5,000 extra teachers in the last two years, and that there is no problem with overall teachers supply.

Retired teachers

The Joint Managerial Body, the management body for half of second-level schools, will warn the committee that some schools are at serious risk of “employing very inappropriate people”, such as retired teachers who have been out of the classroom for 20 years, due to shortages in key subjects.

Surveys it conducted among members indicate that 70 per cent of schools have had to employ either unregistered, retired or unqualified staff in the current academic year.

“The numerical and narrative feedback from our principal respondents point to nothing less than a national crisis in terms of teacher supply,” it states. “The work and worry load on school management is now being amplified by the anxiety of teacher recruitment and retention.”

It says there is a “ virtual absence” of replacement staff, particularly in languages, Irish and home economics.

The largest secondary teachers' union, the Association of Secondary Teachers, Ireland (ASTI), also points to "overwhelming evidence as to the crisis in teacher supply at all levels of our education system".

It states that systemic problems such as unequal pay, lack of employment security and high public expectations all impact on the attractiveness of teaching as a profession and on teacher supply.

‘Pinch points’

Mr Bruton has pledged to help ease “pinch points”’ in teacher supply for key subjects through quotas in teacher training for particular subject areas where there is a shortage of teachers, such as science, maths, French and German. He has also suggested financial incentives or subsidised training for teachers in these subject.

However, ASTI will say it “unequivocally rejects” proposals that teachers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) or other languages where there are shortages should receive additional remuneration, as has been suggested in some quarters.

“Experience in other countries have proved that such measures are not only deeply divisive and demoralising; they are also ineffective in attracting graduates to teaching because other factors such as working conditions and job security are poor.”

It has also expressed opposition to any solution the might entail “city allowances” for teachers.

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