Sunday 22 September 2019

Quinn pledges to rid classrooms of unqualified substitute staff

Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

EDUCATION Minister Ruairi Quinn has pledged to get rid of unqualified staff working in primary school classrooms.

He made the promise after the Irish Independent yesterday revealed hundreds of unqualified teachers have been working in schools this year.

Speaking as the Irish National Teachers' Organisation (INTO) congress got under way, the minister said it was "wrong" that people with no teaching qualification were being given substitute and temporary work for teachers out sick or on leave.

While offering some comfort on one front, the minister's first address to a teachers' conference warned about difficult choices ahead as he faced the challenge of cutting costs to meet the terms of the EU/IMF bailout, while pupil numbers were rising.

Half of the country's 3,200 primary schools had an unqualified teacher for up to a week this year, and as many as 400 persons with no teaching qualifications have worked for at least 50 days.

A further 975 retired primary teachers have also held substitute or temporary jobs in primary schools this year.

What makes the situation more scandalous is that hundreds of newly qualified teachers cannot find work -- with many unable to find even enough substitute work to satisfy their 170-day probation period and officially complete their training as a teacher.

The minister said he would work with the INTO to find a solution.

While the INTO is critical of the way the employment of unqualified staff has persisted, Mr Quinn said it was school principals who hired them.

He added: "We have to work together to get a system that basically ensures that qualified teachers and teachers who are not retired are the people who go into those positions."

The minister said he was touched by an interview he heard yesterday with a newly qualified teacher about the difficulty in finding work.

"Over time my intention is to ensure that non-qualified staff are replaced by qualified teachers," Mr Quinn said.

INTO general secretary Sheila Nunan called for a panel, or panels, to be set up to act as a point of contact for schools with subbing or temporary vacancies, and available qualified staff.

She also said the Department of Education needed a system to "flag" when a unqualified person was on the teaching payroll.

As well as the hundreds of newly qualified primary teachers looking for work, about 2,000 are due to graduate from training colleges this summer.

Ms Nunan said the grim prospect of unemployment was looming over graduates anxious to return the State's investment.

She said primary teaching attracted high-calibre students, who needed employment and a career structure. She also called for a plan for teacher supply.

Ms Nunan said the current number of graduates was based on earlier policies to reduce class sizes.


"We are paying billions in interest repayments to other countries for the bad loans of the banks," Ms Nunan said.

"We don't have to give them our brightest graduates and our young, talented and enthusiastic teachers."

Former INTO president Gerry Malone said he was a retired teacher doing a small amount of work in a primary school.

The one-time school principal, a guest at the INTO conference, spends three hours a week, on two separate days, teaching a child with special needs.

He said he was doing the work because the school had not been able to find anyone else to fill the position.

Mr Malone said he would "give it up in the morning" if the school could get a replacement.

Irish Independent

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