RETIRED teachers are back working in primary schools in jobs that should be going to the thousands of graduates struggling for work.
This is despite strict new rules designed to ensure that substitution work goes to unemployed, newly qualified teachers.
Since the start of the school year -- only six weeks ago -- at least 140 retired teachers have covered absences such as maternity leave and sick leave .
The substitutes may be employed for as a little as a day, but it denies opportunities to newly qualified teachers who rely on substitution work to get on the career ladder.
The employment of so many retired teachers has occurred despite strict new regulations obliging principals to use them only if they have made every effort to find an unemployed graduate to fill the post.
The rules were tightened to ensure that any available work was given to the 1,800 new primary teachers graduating each year. There were about 600 new primary teaching jobs this year.
Another aspect of the rules prevents schools from employing a person who is unqualified to work in a teaching role.
Education Minster Ruairi Quinn said it was "disappointing that boards of management in some schools continue to hire retired teachers instead of unemployed or newly qualified teachers. He said the department directive on the matter was "unequivocal".
Mr Quinn said a department circular set out the position clearly and also outlined the very limited circumstances in which an unqualified or retired teacher may be hired.
Irish National Teachers' Organisation (INTO) general secretary Sheila Nunan said it was "indefensible".
"There was a time when schools relied on retired teachers to fill short-term vacancies. Now there are hundreds of fully qualified teachers available for work, some of whom have yet to work this year."
She called on the Department of Education to do more to deal effectively with the issue.
The Irish Primary Principals Network (IPPN) said despite the oversupply of teachers nationally, there were often shortages of qualified teachers in some pockets of the country and some schools were left with no option but to employ retired teachers.
Mr Quinn provided the figure on the retired teachers in response to a parliamentary question from Fianna Fail education spokesperson Charlie MacConalogue.