TANAISTE Mary Coughlan has moved to end the scandal of hundreds of retired teachers going back to teach while new graduates cannot get work.
Official figures show that last month there were 302 retired teachers working as substitutes in primary schools and a further 74 in secondary, community and comprehensive schools.
But an unknown number of other retired teachers are working on an hourly basis in schools. A small number of retired principals earn around €80 an hour once they pass the threshold of teaching for 150 hours a year.
Unions estimate that there are 800-1,000 trained primary teachers who are not in regular employment and a higher number of unemployed or under employed teachers at the post-primary level.
The Irish Independent learned last night that the minister has written to all 4,000 primary and second-level schools telling them to give priority to qualified teachers and particularly new or recently qualified teachers when making appointments for periods of substitution.
"First call must be given to teachers who are not in work," said Ms Coughlan.
The letter to schools stresses that the minister is asking all school authorities to give priority to unemployed teachers for all substitute and other temporary appointments over those who have retired.
Sources pointed out that the minister cannot force the schools to follow her advice as appointments are a matter for the individual school authorities. But the letter was strongly welcomed by teacher unions last night.
Teachers' Union of Ireland general secretary Peter MacMenamin said he did not approve of situations where former principals and deputy principals who had chosen to retire on full pensions were taking work when there were so many jobless teachers.
Earlier this month, INTO president Jim Higgins urged schools to ensure all vacancies, whether for a day or a month or longer, were filled by qualified teachers. He said unwaged teachers "must be given preference over non-teachers and retired teachers for any available substitute work".
School managers say they cannot always get qualified teachers for minority subjects and that they are forced to rely, in some cases, on either unqualified or retired teachers.