Some 2,800 part-time teachers are being offered additional hours to support schools as they reopen this week and deal with new Covid-19 guidelines.
While welcoming the scaling up of substitute cover, the primary teachers’ union, the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO), says a review of emergency measures must be carried out to ensure staffing needs are met.
The INTO said it would like to see a review carried out early in the school year to see if substitute cover was adequate. “In fact, we believe that review should be done before the end of September in case extra provision is needed in the budget,” it said.
The union has particularly welcomed the introduction of substitute supply panels which will make it easier for schools to access replacement teachers. It would also provide more security for these teachers who would be given fixed-term contracts, it said.
These teachers are being assigned to 94 “base schools” and will provide cover to more than 2,000 schools in total. However, the INTO said it would like to see the number of supply panels increase.
Over the summer, the Teaching Council added 1,600 teachers to the register and this was scheduled to rise to 3,200 before the start of September.
Among the cohorts of teachers being targeted by the Department of Education in its bid to provide adequate cover are those who trained abroad.
In late July Minister for Education Norma Foley signed an order which will allow, "on an exceptional, time-bound and once-off basis", teachers who qualified outside Ireland to complete their induction in this country. Normally teachers who qualify abroad must complete their probation period in the country where they qualified.
The Teaching Council has contacted some higher education institutions in the UK asking them to make their teaching graduates aware of the change allowing them to register in this country without having completed their induction period.
The council has also contacted up to 6,000 teachers on the register who are “not fully deployed” in schools, including those working part-time, on career breaks or recently retired, to see if they would be available .
Some 2,500 newly qualified teachers who graduated this summer from Irish colleges have been registered in recent weeks. The department also hopes to increase the hours of the 1,300 secondary teachers and the 2,800 in primary schools who are job-sharing.
There are 107,000 teachers registered with the Teaching Council, including 50,000 primary teachers, 45,000 post-primary and some with dual qualifications.
A Department of Education technical report on supply and demand of teachers published last year illustrates the scale of the difficulty schools in some regions were already facing, when looking for substitute teachers.
The report showed that in 2017 at primary level there were 704,335 teacher absence days but substitutes provided cover for only 586,223 days.
The department report also showed that fewer than half of the 3,306 primary teachers who availed of maternity leave in the 2018-2019 school year were covered by just one substitute teacher. In some cases two or three substitutes were required and in the case of 304 teachers, schools had to find five or more substitute teachers to cover the maternity leave.