Trainee and retired teachers will be asked to plug acute staffing gaps

Unions say emigration of young Irish teachers a key factor behind shortages

Long-awaited report raises concerns that staff shortages could place the quality of tuition at risk. Photograph: Dave Thompson/PA Wire

Long-awaited report raises concerns that staff shortages could place the quality of tuition at risk. Photograph: Dave Thompson/PA Wire

 

Trainee and retired teachers will be used to tackle an acute shortage of qualified staff in schools from next September.

This follows the publication of a long-awaited report by Minister for Education Richard Bruton into teacher supply, which raises concerns that staff shortages could place the quality of tuition at risk.

Both primary and secondary schools have reported that there is a growing “crisis” in finding substitute cover and qualified teachers in key subject areas.

The report Striking the Balance, which was prepared by a working group linked to the Teaching Council, was finalised in December 2015 and finally published on Friday.

It confirms that at second level there is a shortage of teachers in key subjects – including Irish, home economics, physics and European languages – which is resulting in the use of “out of field” teachers who are not specifically qualified in a subject area.

At primary level there is concern over a shortage of substitute cover for teachers who are absent due to maternity leave, illness or career breaks.

In response to the report’s findings, Mr Bruton has outlined a number of measures to increase the pool of teachers available to schools, in particular to fill short-term vacancies. They include:

* Ensuring as many retiring and retired teachers as possible remain on the Teaching Council’s register;

* Highlighting to schools the availability for employment of final-year students who are completing undergraduate and master’s programmes in education, who are allowed to work for up to five days in a row;

* Increasing the limits for employment for a teacher while on career break;

Draw of the Middle East

While there is not a problem with the supply of teachers emerging from colleges each year, unions such as the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation say the emigration of young teachers – especially to the Middle East – is a key factor behind shortages.

Although trainee and retired teachers are already used to fill gaps in schools, these measures amount to a much greater emphasis on using these sources of labour.

Mr Bruton said these steps will be considered over the coming months with a view to having them in place for the beginning of the new school year in September.

“I am aware that some schools are experiencing difficulty in recruiting substitute teachers, and I am committed to examining all possible means of addressing this issue,” he said.

The report also scopes out the work needed to develop a model for achieving a better balance between teacher supply and demand in the medium to long term.

Mr Bruton acknowledged that a more reliable supply of teachers that meets the needs of the system was crucial.

He said he has asked his officials to consider how the development of a model can be progressed, within available resources.

This will include talks with the Higher Education Authority and providers of initial teacher-education programmes.