SCHOOLS are struggling to offer pupils the minimum 28 hours a week of classroom teaching due to education cutbacks.
A major review of teaching time in second-level institutions is to be carried out after several schools were found to be falling short of basic requirements.
The Department of Education has admitted the cutbacks of recent years have been "an added challenge" for schools in meeting the standard.
The problem has been identified in a number of recent Whole School Evaluation (WSE) reports published by the department's inspectors.
In some cases, schools count assembly or study time as part of the 28 hours, but the rules stipulate that it must be spent on direct teaching and learning.
In a recent WSE report on the 425-pupil Colaiste Cois Life, Lucan, Co Dublin, the inspectors reported that pupils were being left short one-and-a-half hours a week.
At Meanscoil Iognaid Ris, Longmile Road, Dublin, inspectors also noted that instruction time fell short of the minimum 28 hours.
And inspectors found the 525-pupil Salesian Secondary School, in Pallaskenry, Limerick, counted a 15-minute weekly session between class tutors and pupils as part of its 28 hours.
Michael Moriarty, general secretary of the Education and Training Boards Ireland, said achieving the 28 hours was becoming more difficult.
Ferdia Kelly, general secretary of the Joint Managerial Body representing secondary schools, said it would like to maintain the 28 hours but the reduction in teacher numbers had put pressure on schools to maintain it.
Most schools do provide the required 28 hours a week, and at least one-third of schools offer even more than that.
The department is planning a detailed analysis of practice across schools of different types and sizes, to see where and why there is a deviation.
It will consider whether a standard 28 hours is desirable, or whether there should be a relaxation of the rules by giving schools a certain flexibility in how they organise their time.
A department spokesperson said that any such relaxation would not involve a reduction in the 22 hours a week for which teachers are contracted to be available.
School timetables are worked out based on the number of pupils, the range of subjects on offer -- and at different levels -- and the number of teachers.
The department has acknowledged that the challenges involved in meeting the needs of all pupils can vary, depending on the school size and the range of subjects it provides.
A department spokesperson said its research would relate to the decisions schools make when deciding how to use the aggregate teaching hours available from the schools allocation.
The educational benefits, advantages or trade-offs that might justify any deviation from a standard number of hours would be considered, the spokesperson said.