A raft of emergency measures to deal with the primary school staffing crisis have been announced by Education Minister Norma Foley.
They are aimed at supporting schools all the way to the February mid-term break as the fourth wave of Covid sweeps the country.
As well as agreement with third-level colleges to facilitate the release of student teachers to work in classrooms, a range of other actions have been unveiled in response to the unprecedented circumstances.
Professional development courses for teachers where a sub is required are being suspended until after the February break to help maintain staffing levels.
The teacher educators who are on secondment to Department of Education support services to run those courses are going back to fill gaps in classrooms.
Another 200 primary teaching posts are being created on supply panels from which schools can source substitutes for unexpected and short-term absences.
That’s on top of 100 posts authorised a month ago, and the latest additions will bring the total number on panels to 680.
In an incentive to encourage more retired teachers to return to the classroom, they can now work until the end of this term without any consequence for their pension.
Other measures include allowing newly qualified teachers who secure posts on supply panels in the 2021/2022 academic year to complete the Droichead induction programme.
In exceptional circumstances where there is no sub available, teachers, known as Treorai, who host students on school placements, may provide sub cover for absences of a very short duration in their own school.
The new measures follow ongoing engagement between the department and education stakeholders as schools struggled with the worst ever teacher supply crisis.
Schools were advised of the details in a note circulated by the Department of Education this evening, while Ms Foley outlined the measures to the Dáil.
Earlier, Ms Foley met heads of teacher training colleges who agreed to facilitate release of third and fourth year undergraduates student teachers as well as those on post-graduate courses to support schools up to the end of term.
The colleges are exploring flexibilities in relation to the assessments with, for instance, Dublin City University (DCU) postponing pre-Christmas assessments for fourth year students until next semester.
DCU’s executive dean of education, Professor Anne Looney, said about 430-440 fourth year students would be available to schools from next week, although it was up to students to decide whether they wanted to take on subbing work.
DCU has about the same number of third year students who are on placement until next week and they will also be available after that.
Mary immaculate College,(MIC) Limerick told its primary and post primary teaching students today that, in the exceptional circumstances, they may engage in subbing work in schools. Their 470 fourth year students have finished lectures, and many are already subbing.
MIC third year students are in lectures until December 3, followed by a study week and two weeks of exam.
In January, they are on holidays until the 24th of that month and then on placement.
At Hibernia, the private college, which offers a post-graduate course, some of its final year students are already working as subs and 500 more would be available from next week.
Irish Primary Principals Network (IPPN) CEO Páiric Clerkin welcomed the additional supports to help schools through this period, including the assistance offered by the higher education institutions
Irish National Teachers Organisation (INTO) general secretary John Boyle also welcomed the package and said the measures would “provide some relief and enable primary and special schools to function more effectively over the winter months.
Mr Boyle said the INTO would “continue to work constructively to ensure that our schools are in a strong position to address the challenges posed by the pandemic.”