Monday 14 October 2019

Unemployed teachers panel set up to tackle substitute cover crisis in primary schools

Stock photo
Stock photo
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

Panels of unemployed teachers are being appointed in six areas to help tackle the crisis facing the country’s primary schools in finding substitute cover at short notice.

The scale of the problem facing primary schools can be gauged by the 47,312 sub days worked by 1,240 retired primary teachers in 2018/19 - up from 33,093/1,003 in 2017/18 and 5,259/302 in 2013/14.

A survey by the Catholic Primary Schools Management Association two years ago found 90pc of schools were experiencing difficulty finding a sub.

The initiative announced by Education Minister Joe McHugh today means full-time contracts for up to 18 teachers, who will each work with a cluster of schools providing sub cover as necessary.

Importantly, it provides a degree of certainty to the schools facing growing difficulties sourcing subs to fill  vacancies such as sick leave and maternity leave.

Teacher supply panels were previously trialled but abandoned in the early years of the recession. They were considered expensive and ineffective, a view that continued to be held by the Department of Education up to last year.

But, faced with a severe shortage of subs available to primary schools, the new pilot has been set up. Advances in technology,  such as Whatsapp groups,  make communications between schools and teachers easier and instantaneous, allowing for greater efficiencies in the operation of the scheme.

There will be about 15 schools in each cluster, with a total of 90 benefiting from the scheme.

Up to three teachers will be assigned to each cluster, which will operate in north and south Dublin, Co Kildare, Co Meath, Cork city and Co Galway.

Although there is much substitute work available, it can be widely spread and erratic and may not provide a guaranteed, minimum income.

The hope is that the full-time contract on offer – initially for a year – will be an incentive to teachers to stay in Ireland, rather than emigrate .

Mr McHugh said today that it was “about trying to find clever and efficient ways of giving a qualified teacher security of work and ensuring they fill as many vacancies across a number of schools.

“It is possible now thanks to better use of simple technology which allows schools to work more closely and respond immediately.”

Mr McHugh said the six areas were selected based on data which demonstrated they have the greatest challenges in terms of sourcing substitute cover.

Each area will have a base school where the teachers will employed, but they will  be available to work in other schools participating in the cluster as the need arises.  The six base schools are:  Scoil Chroí Naofa, Athenry, Co Galway; Gaelscoil an Ghoirt Alainn, Montenotte, Cork; Scoil Bhríde, Leixlip, Co Kildare; Ard Rí CNS, Navan, Co Meath; St David's NS, Artane, Dublin 5; Presentation Primary School, Terenure, Dublin 6W

If a sub is not required on a given day in the cluster, supply panel teachers must make themselves available to cover short-term absences in schools outside the cluster.

Teachers are expected to be recruited within weeks on a contract that will bring them to the end of the  school year, and the scheme will be reviewed before the 2019/20 year finalises.

The Irish National Teachers Organisation (INTO) has been calling for the re-introduction of supply panels since they were abolished in 2011.

Reacting to the announcement, INTO general secretary John Boyle said “teacher supply cannot be planned without an organised system to fill the daily vacancies, therefore supply panels are not an add-on but a critical and essential part of the education service.”

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