Teachers warn of ‘crisis point’ staff shortages

Pupils left without qualified teachers, Oireachtas committee hears

The Irish Primary Principals’ Network said surveys showed difficulties in sourcing substitute teachers for teachers on short-term absences were getting worse. Photograph: PA

The Irish Primary Principals’ Network said surveys showed difficulties in sourcing substitute teachers for teachers on short-term absences were getting worse. Photograph: PA

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Children’s education is now suffering because of growing difficulties finding qualified teachers, school managers have warned.

The Oireachtas education committee heard on Tuesday from teachers’ unions and school management bodies that staff shortages have reached “crisis point” in key areas.

The Irish Primary Principals’ Network said surveys showed difficulties in sourcing substitute teachers for teachers on short-term absences were getting worse.

Pairic Clerkin, the network’s chief executive, said the quality of education was being compromised due to classes being split or because of a reliance of unqualified staff. “The biggest impact of shortages is on children and their learning which does suffer, especially in the case of longer-term absences,” he said.

The Catholic Primary Schools Management Association said vulnerable children were suffering most from the use of resource teachers to fill gaps in schools as a measure of last resort.

The association’s general secretary Séamus Mulconry said the lack of substitute cover meant principals and teachers were not able to upskill or avail of training.

Substitute teacher

A survey by the association found 90 per cent of principals had experienced difficulty in sourcing a substitute teacher this school year.

“The evidence is in, the debate is over. . . we have a crisis in primary schools,” Mr Mulconry said.

Secondary schools, meanwhile, said teacher shortages were most acute in key subjects such Irish, European languages, maths and science.

Irish-speaking schools, in particular, said they were facing critical difficulties recruiting teachers with the competence to teach through the language. Education and Training Boards Ireland said these shortages may soon affect subject choice and curriculum provision.

Ger Curtin, president of the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland, said the Leaving Cert oral exams were facing challenges because schools were not able to release teachers to work as examiners due to a shortage of substitutes.

Teachers’ unions said solutions to difficulties recruiting teachers lay in tackling unequal pay. The Irish National Teachers’ Organisation said pay equality for new entrant teachers, and a resolution of the housing crisis, will be needed to ensure teaching continues to be an attractive profession.

‘Absolutely scandalous’

Fianna Fáil education spokesman Thomas Byrne said it was “absolutely scandalous” that no one seemed to be taking firm responsibility for the problem.

“We are sacrificing the education system . . . we are sending children into classes with no teachers. The whole system is a mess. This has to end,” he said.

Independent Senator Lynn Ruane said her daughter had first-hand experience of teacher shortages in her Leaving Cert year and had been left without an Irish teacher for three months. “The class was left idle for an hour and told to go off and study.” she said.

Labour TD Jan O’Sullivan said she had been contacted by a teacher on Monday to say she was unable to find a substitute teacher “despite making 46 phone calls”.

“She texted back today to say she still doesn’t have a substitute for tomorrow. It illustrates the scale of the problem,” she said.

Committee chairwoman, Fianna Fáil TD Fiona O’Loughlin, said it was clear unequal pay appeared to be a key factor behind some of the shortages.

She said it was troubling that Ireland was educating its “best and brightest” to qualify as teachers and then forcing them to emigrate to work in other jurisdictions.

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