Panels of substitute teachers may be employed on full-time salaries to help schools source teaching cover at short notice.
Many schools say they are being forced to hire unqualified or retired staff to cover for teachers on maternity leave or training days due to what they describe as a “crisis” in teacher supply.
Minister for Education Joe McHugh has signalled he will establish panels of substitute teachers who would be employed on full-time salaries to provide cover in schools at short notice.
The Minister told reporters at the annual conference of the Irish Primary Principals’ Network he wanted creative and practical solutions.
“The information I’m getting back is if the substitute panel is an example of doing this, it’s something I want to see happen.
“Principals are under pressure and they’re trying to organise their schools ... If you go back far enough, there is a precedent there as well. If we can bring that back in, it’s something that I’m committed to,” he said.
Supply panels of substitute teachers were established more than a decade ago, but were axed as a result of austerity-era cost cutting.
Department of Education officials said at the time that the panels were expensive and inefficient, with some teachers who were underworked on full-time salaries.
However, officials say new developments, such as release days for principals, mean there will be greater certainty and demand for substitute support.
Advances in mobile technology, they say, also mean that panels could be alerted to vacancies much quickly than before.
The president of the Irish Primary Principals' Network (IPPN), David Ruddy, welcomed the Minister's proposal.
“One of the greatest challenges still facing us is finding teachers to teach our pupils ... We’ve got texts from some of colleagues who cannot attend today because of that substitute shortage,” he said.
“Short-term vacancies and maternity leave are particularly difficult for us ... If it weren’t for retired teachers, I don’t know how we’d survive.”
Mr McHugh also announced plans to address health and safety concerns over single-teacher schools.
There have been long-standing worries that critical incidents, such as a sudden illness among a teacher or child, could leave children in single-teacher schools in a vulnerable position.
Mr McHugh said the department planned to allocate a second adult to be on the premises of such schools.
While there are between 20 and 30 single teacher schools, more than half have another adult, such as a special-needs assistant, on the premises.
Department officials are making contact with 12 schools who have a single adult to say grant assistance will be made available to hire another adult.
Schools will have discretion on whether this second adult will be a secretary, caretaker or teaching assistant.
There were also calls at the conference for teaching principals in smaller schools to be given a “release day” to focus on leadership and management.
Mr McHugh, who received at standing ovation after his address to the conference, pledged to address this issue.
He said Budget 2019 had provided an extra release day for teaching principals and building on this would be one of his priorities.
“Words are words and action is action,” he said. “I want to see something meaningful happen here and I will work with IPPN on this ... My officials are aware of my motivation on this and I think we can allow a bit of space to try and see how this can happen in the future ... We need to make this happen as soon as we can.”