PRIMARY school children are being taught by hundreds of unqualified teachers, while graduates struggle to find work.
The scale of the scandal is underlined by the revelation that 400 people with no teaching qualifications worked for at least 50 days in primary schools in the current school year.
The 50 days represents more than a quarter of the full school year.
Figures obtained by the Irish Independent also show that half of the country's 3,200 primary schools employed an unqualified person for up to a week in the September-February period.
It is the first time the scale of unqualified teaching levels have been revealed.
And it raises serious questions about how the Department of Education has allowed unqualified teachers to continue to work in schools in such large numbers, for so long.
There is no formal system to provide cover for teachers who are sick or on leave, and principals often struggle to find a replacement at short notice.
The biggest losers are the tens of thousands of pupils taught by someone with no proper qualifications, for maybe months at a time.
The quality of teaching has been identified as a key factor in how well students learn and how they advance in school.
The shocking figures are published as teachers gather for their annual conferences, with job cuts and graduate unemployment on their agendas.
Problems arise when schools have to replace teachers on absences -- sick leave, maternity leave or career breaks.
These could range from one day up to an entire school year.
Large numbers of retired teachers are also used to fill these slots. For example, retired primary teachers, on an average pension of €30,000, filled 975 positions in primary schools, ranging from a single day to more than 50.
It includes 409 retired teachers doing between one and five days, and 51 retired teachers filling in for at least 50 days.
At post-primary level, retired teachers occupied a total of 305 substitute or temporary positions, including 143 for at least 50 days.
It is more difficult to get an accurate picture of the number of people with no qualifications in post-primary schools.
A teacher may have the required qualification for second level, but may not be teaching in their specialised subject.
The Irish Independent submitted a Freedom of Information (FoI) request to the Department of Education. It sought information on the number of retired or unqualified teachers employed for up to five days to more than 50 between September 1 and February 28 last.
The Irish National Teachers' Organisation (INTO) has threatened industrial action in schools where unqualified persons are employed from 2013.
The INTO threat was "post-dated" at a time of teacher shortages a few years ago.
Recent cutbacks -- 700 jobs in primary schools are being axed in September -- have turned a teacher shortage into a surplus.
INTO estimates that hundreds of newly qualified teachers are without regular work, while another 2,000 primary teachers graduating this year face bleak job prospects.
There will be about 1,600 new graduates this year with a post-primary teaching qualification.
INTO president Jim Higgins wants panels of qualified teachers set up to fill vacancies. Mr Higgins said there should be strict time limits on the employment of a retired teacher or unqualified persons.
However, he said this was only a temporary measure and called for the implementation of the Teaching Council Act, which would only allow registered teachers to teach in schools.
Education Minister Ruairi Quinn said it was "unacceptable for retired people to take up such positions, save in very exceptional circumstances".