The primary teacher shortage blackspots are laid bare in a new survey.
Dublin, Cork, Galway, Kildare and Wicklow are by far the worst counties when it comes to schools not having enough staff to cover classes.
The lack of accommodation in Dublin and its commuter belt and other urban areas and the high rents for what is available are blamed for the serious shortages.
It is a “crisis”, according to Páiric Clerkin, CEO of the Irish Primary Principals Network (IPPN), whose recent survey of primary schools has identified the pinch points.
“We are at crisis point. The situation is critical in Dublin, Wicklow and Kildare,” he told the IPPN annual conference.
The biggest losers are pupils with special education needs whose support teachers are being pulled away to take over a mainstream class.
Ironically, the crisis is hitting against the background of steady progress in reducing the pupil-teacher ratio, with more special education teaching posts in the system to meet needs.
On paper, primary school staffing levels look better than ever, but many principals are facing the harsh reality of not being able to recruit enough teachers to fill their posts.
The shortages have left up to 900 primary schools nationwide – 27pc of the total – without their full quota of teachers, according to the IPPN survey. Many more schools cannot get subs for short-term absences.
The lack of teachers is worst in Dublin, where two in three schools – 65pc – do not have a full quota of staff.
In Kildare and Wicklow, about half of schools are struggling to achieve their approved staffing allocation – in Kildare, the figure is 52pc and in Wicklow it is 46pc.
While other counties are faring better, and some may be feeling little impact, the heavily populated Dublin-Wicklow-Kildare region accounts for a significant proportion of primary pupils. Nationally, an average of 87pc of primary schools report challenges recruiting subs, but in some counties it is even higher than that.
According to the survey, Wicklow is the worst blackspot for subs, with 100pc of schools saying they had difficulties getting teachers. In Dublin it is 98pc, in Kildare 92pc, Galway 90pc and Cork 80pc.
Most areas are now covered by a Department of Education supply panel of teachers, which is intended to give schools access to a sub for unplanned or short absences,
However, nationally, two in five – 39pc – of the panels are not fully staffed. In Dublin the figure is as high as 91pc, in Wicklow it is 86pc and in Kildare it is 63pc. In Cork, 13pc of schools that responded to the IPPN survey do not have access to a supply panel at all.
In some areas where panels have been established, they have not been able to recruit teachers to take up the positions, so schools in those localities don’t have that back-up
The effect of the shortages on special needs pupils is obvious and causing most concern to principals.
Countrywide, more than four in five – 83pc – of the schools say they have had to redeploy a special education teacher to cover a mainstream class, but it is higher than that in some counties
In Kildare, all schools that responded to the survey have resorted to moving a special education teacher from core duties to cover an absence, while in Wicklow, 96pc said they had done that. In Galway, the figure was 90pc and in Dublin 86pc.
Mr Clerkin said that while the staffing crisis was affecting all pupils, it was especially difficult for the most vulnerable children. “Many of our special education teachers are finding themselves placed in classrooms simply to keep schools open,” he said.
Education Minister Norma Foley has announced some flexibilities to improve teacher supply, but it is not enough.
Mr Clerkin is seeking the immediate re-instatement of the system of “banked hours” that operated in schools at the height of the Covid pandemic.
Under the “banked hours” scheme, if special education teachers were diverted from their core duties to a mainstream class, the Department of Education paid for teachers to restore the time lost to pupils later in the school year.