MORE generous maternity leave provision is pushing up the cost of providing substitute teachers in schools to over €180m per year, new figures confirm.
This year's substitution bill is €183m, a third of which goes on maternity and related leave, while less than one-tenth is uncertified sick leave.
Women are now entitled to 26 weeks paid maternity leave and 16 weeks unpaid leave -- up four weeks on a couple of years ago.
The figures also show that the cost of uncertified sick leave is €17m compared with €45m for certified sick leave.
From January, the Department of Education and Science will no longer provide paid substitution for uncertified sick leave. Nor will it provide for substitution for teachers absent on official school business which currently costs €13m.
Teachers' union the INTO said the figures disproved the notion that there was a problem with uncertified sick leave among teachers -- they showed that it worked out at an average of just over one day per teacher per year.
"This is not high by any means," said John Carr, the union's general secretary.
He said costs in relation to substitution had increased, but these were due to improvements in maternity leave provisions and in payment rates for substitute teachers.
"Schools make every attempt to find a trained teacher to cover for absent teachers," said Mr Carr.
"This has impacted on the overall cost, but schools should not have to apologise for looking for a trained teacher to teach classes."
Other cuts will also have a severe impact, according to Michael Moriarty, general secretary of the Irish Vocational Education Association, which has just carried out a survey of the effects on VEC schools and colleges.
He said that 425 teaching posts would be lost to the sector as follows:
l Some 180 will go in mainstream schools because the pupil-teacher ratio is being raised to 19:1.
l A total of 157 will go because the ratio is being raised to 17:1 for post-Leaving Certificate courses.
l Some 88 will go following the withdrawal of previously approved disadvantaged posts and because of the capping of language support teachers.
"In addition to these cuts, VECs will have to implement the government directive to achieve a 3pc cut in their pay budgets in 2009. The 5pc budget cut in the adult education budget will also draw in excess of €4m from the sector," he said.