UNEMPLOYED teachers are flooding schools with applications for jobs.
The postbox at a Dublin primary school was filled to overflowing every day for a fortnight after it advertised two short-term vacancies.
St Louis Junior School, Rathmines, Dublin, is typical of many around the country offering substitution work, such as sick-leave or maternity-leave cover.
Newly qualified graduates are facing huge difficulty in getting work this year as education cuts take their toll on staffing.
Adding salt to the wound are recent figures showing that in the first six weeks of the school year, 140 retired teachers picked up substitution work.
This is despite strict new rules which oblige schools to give priority to unemployed teachers.
The Irish National Teachers' Organisation (INTO) said schools all over the country were getting a similar response rate.
INTO president Anne Fay said it showed clearly the extent of teacher unemployment in Ireland at present.
Although growing enrolments mean additional teachers have to be employed for new classes, much of that recruitment is offset by reductions in areas such as resource and English-language teaching.
Ms Fay said: "In every county in Ireland there are highly qualified teachers looking for work. At the same time Ireland has some of the largest classes in the EU at primary level."
The 298-pupil St Louis is seeking two substitute teachers to cover for maternity leave vacancies, one starting in November and one in January.
Principal Miriam Mulkerrin is now trying to process about 400 applications for the position she received up to Friday's closing date.
Her problem now is how to make a decision out of the big field of highly-qualified candidates.
She said: "The quality of applicants is so good; each and every one of them has superb qualifications. How can I do justice to them? It is heartbreaking."
Typical of the applicants are qualified teachers with 500 or more Leaving Cert points, one or two undergraduate degrees, and postgraduate qualifications.
"They also all have additional talents, such as playing and teaching music, sport, drama and ICT skills of the highest calibre," she said.
Ms Mulkerrin was also taken aback at the addresses of some of the applicants and how far they were prepared to travel for short-term work.
"For something like this you would expect people from Dublin, or maybe Kildare, but they are coming from all parts of the country."
Ms Mulkerrin said that she also recognised the names of some of the applicants because they had applied for another vacancy in her school last year.
"This means that nothing has come up for them in the interim. The situation is very difficult this year."
She compared the situation to 2007, when she advertised for maternity leave cover for three months and could not get a trained teacher.
"The tables have completely turned," she said.