Education Minister Batt O'Keeffe was branded shameful by the nation's school principals yesterday as the full extent of the education cutbacks became known.
As many as 1,000 teaching posts may be lost at second level, on top of the 1,000 in primary schools, with the Leaving Certificate curriculum also being hit as principals warned that compulsory student field trips may have to be cancelled.
Second-level principal leader Aine O'Neill received a standing ovation after she said "shame on you" to Minister O'Keeffe when he attended the annual conference of the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals (NAPD) yesterday.
The NAPD president warned that the withdrawal of funding for substitute teachers to cover for uncertified sick leave or absences on school business would radically impact on teaching as well as co-curricular and extra-curricular activity.
Leaving Certificate students are now required to take a one-day field trip in geography and it is best practice for biology students go on field trips, while English exam candidates are taken to the theatre.
For health and safety reasons, the practice in schools is to send two teachers per class group on such activities, while other teachers may also be out of school for reasons such as in-service training or certified sick leave.
Ms O'Neill asked what a principal was to do if there was no one available to cover for the geography teacher who has taken Leaving Certificate students on a field trip, or if a colleague rings in sick.
"Cancel the field trip?" she asked. "For health and safety reasons alone, minister, this will be impossible to implement. Students must be supervised."
The minister urged co-operation from teachers and suggested they could provide substitute cover on an unpaid basis, or by joining the official supervision and substitution scheme.
He said schools managed prior to 2002-03 when there was no such cover, adding: "The whole system didn't collapse."
He said if a class went out, certain other teachers were left free and he suggested that instead of teaching their normal class "perhaps they might indulge in helping the schools in terms of supervision".
The NAPD president also said it was a mystery how the minister could claim that only 200 teachers would be lost to second-level education as a result of the Budget cuts -- their estimate is nearly 1,000.
She said a 500-pupil school had a basic allocation of 27.8 teachers, but the Budget changes would reduce that to 26.3 teachers, meaning an average loss per school of 1.5 teachers.
The disparity between the minister's figure of 200 teaching jobs cuts in each sector and his critics' claims of 1,000 each, is explained by the anticipated increase in pupil numbers next year, for whom teachers will be employed.
Mr O'Keeffe said 11,000 additional pupils were expected in primary schools and 3,000 at second level. The extra teachers required for the new enrolments partly offset the cuts, giving the minister a net figure of 400 between the sectors.
Teachers Union of Ireland president Don Ryan put the second-level job losses at 1,100 as well as the 130 job cuts induced by withdrawal of funding to certain disadvantaged schools.
"Such a cull will have a devastating effect on education in this country, effectively limiting the potential of the next generation of students," he said.
The Irish National Teachers Organisation has announced a campaign to fight the cuts.