DOZENS of schools are using the JobBridge scheme to hire qualified teachers to work for only €50 a week on top of social welfare payments.
This is despite one of the country's biggest education unions ordering members not to take jobs in the Government's controversial internship scheme, amid suggestions that young teachers are being exploited.
Schools struggling with overcrowded classrooms and ever-tightening budgets are turning to the scheme to get the extra staff they need.
New figures show 58 teaching positions were taken up under JobBridge. At least 32 of the posts were for primary teachers, who were hired across 17 different counties. There is currently an advertisement for two primary teachers in Claregalway on the JobBridge website.
The Government had previously cleared the way for schools to use JobBridge in this way, sparking anger from the INTO union, which says that teachers should be employed either full-time or paid a fair rate for substitution work.
JobBridge offers nine-month internships to unemployed people who get an additional €50 a week from the State on top of their social welfare payments.
INTO had passed a ruling saying primary schools should not recruit teachers under the internship scheme, which it described as "exploitative".
However, many schools are desperate for extra staff as they face restrictions on the number of teachers they can employ based on the number of pupils in attendance.
The Department of Education has set the pupil-teacher ratio at 28-1 in primary schools, and maintained that figure in the Budget.
Although they cannot employ an extra teacher full-time once they reach this limit, many schools are successfully applying to JobBridge for an additional teacher to tackle overcrowded classrooms.
Fianna Fail education spokesman Charlie McConalogue said the Government had to provide more jobs for desperate young teachers, not only JobBridge placements.
"The answer is not to get young teaching graduates to basically work for free for a year. That's not fair. They've trained for four years and we have to respect their role," he said.
Sinn Fein education spokesman Jonathan O'Brien said JobBridge allowed the department to get teachers in on the cheap.
"I don't think it's right that you give somebody an extra €50 a week to go into a classroom teaching, with all the pressures and strains and responsibilities, and not have a real prospect of full-time employment at the end," he said.
However, Fine Gael TD Jim Daly, who is a former school principal and INTO member, believes JobBridge is beneficial to teachers and schools.
He obtained the latest figures showing dozens of schools ignoring INTO's directive following a parliamentary question.
Mr Daly said young teachers could gain experience through the scheme, as they would otherwise be languishing on the dole. He has appealed to INTO to lift its threat of sanctions against schools that hire teachers through JobBridge.
Graduates must complete 300 hours of teaching practice within three years to register as a qualified teacher.
However, Mr Daly said many are unable to get the work experience they need because principals were hiring fully qualified teachers. He said JobBridge provided a foot in the door.
"They can't break the cycle. JobBridge is a perfect fit, but the INTO's attitude smacks a little bit of 'I'm alright Jack, close the door after me'," he said.
An INTO spokesman disagreed, saying it was impossible for teachers to balance JobBridge with the odd day of more lucrative substitution work.
"What Deputy Daly is essentially saying to young teachers is that they should work for €10 a day," he said. "That is callous."
INTO said there was no evidence that hundreds of teachers would jump at the chance to take up a JobBridge internship.
And it added that the opposition to the scheme comes from recently qualified teachers.
Junior education minister Ciaran Cannon urged INTO to reconsider its stance, given that 1,400 new teachers will be recruited in primary and secondary schools next year.