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Teacher shortages: Two in three primary schools in Dublin don’t have enough staff

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Two in three primary schools in Dublin don’t have their full quota of teachers, as the classroom staffing crisis worsens.

Nationwide more than one in four primary schools are struggling without their approved staffing allocation, but it is much worse in Dublin and neighbouring counties.

Children with special education needs are the biggest losers as their teachers are being diverted to mainstream classes to fill gaps.

Primary principals’ leader Páiric Clerkin said today: “We are at crisis point. The situation is critical in Dublin, Wicklow and Kildare.”

The Irish Primary Principals’ Network (IPPN) CEO said while the staffing crisis was a particular challenge in and around Dublin, the availability of substitutes, was an issue nationwide.

Schools rely heavily on substitutes, usually to fill short term absences, and without them, schools have to turn elsewhere, such as redeploying their special education teachers, or splitting classes.

Mr Clerkin, who was addressing the IPPN annual conference, said the staffing crisis was impacting on all pupils, but especially the most vulnerable children.

“Many of our special education teachers are finding themselves placed in classrooms simply to keep schools open,” he said.

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 when there were big staffing challenges.

Under the “banked hours” scheme, if special education teachers are diverted from their core duties to a mainstream class, the Department of Education paid for schools to restore the time lost to pupils later in the school year.

On the broader issue of catering for pupils with special needs, Mr Clerkin said there was inadequate resourcing.

“The voice of the school leader must be listened to - and their message is loud and clear - the system is not working. Special needs are either met or they are not and, if not, there is a consequential impact not only on the child with special needs but also other children in the class.”

He also said there was an issue to be addressed about compelling schools to open special classes “without proper planning and support”.

Mr Clerkin said the IPPN was proposing an amendment to the school admissions legislation, to allow schools to receive advance application on behalf of children who have a recommendation for a placement in special class or schools, 24 months in advance of their school start date.

He said this would alleviate difficulties and negate the need for section 37A, the piece of legislation that can be used to compel schools to open special classes.

“It would provide certainty to parents about school placement, and, most importantly, would give children in need of a special class placement the opportunity to attend the same local national school as their brother or sister,” he said.

The lack of teachers is also hitting schools as they are confronted with increasing numbers of pupils presenting with mental health issues, a problem that was exacerbated by the pandemic.

More than 10,000 children are currently on a HSE waiting list for mental health treatment and about 4,000 of these waiting over a year for an appointment with professional services.

“The needs of these children lie far beyond what schools can provide. This is the point where external support is needed, and too often, this is the point where children are failed. We know that where children are experiencing mental health issues, early and appropriate intervention works and delays in service provision have a very damaging effect,” he said.

He said IPPN welcomed the commitment of Education Minister Normal Foley to pilot programmes involving teams of health and education professionals to support children directly in the schools where they learn.


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