Secondary schools are facing a “chronic shortage of teachers” in the coming months due to delayed retirements, high-risk staff needing time off and people not applying for jobs in urban areas due to high rents.
Unions speaking at the Covid-19 response committee today have painted a bleak picture as schools across the country reopen.
The committee is meeting today to hear input from teachers and parents about how the return of schools is operating on the ground.
The Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) said schools in cities, particularly Dublin, will be hit hardest.
General secretary Michael Gillespie said there is a serious lack of teachers for pinch subjects such as languages and science.
“In a month’s time we will have delayed retirements going to hit the system so there is going to be a massive shortage of teachers and we will only have a minor number available to replace them,” he said.
“The number of teachers who are at high risk plus the retirements that are coming, we believe there will be a chronic shortage of teachers, most of these will be in the urban areas, in particular Dublin.”
Mr Gillespie said the number of young people testing positive for coronavirus is “rapidly on the rise” and that schools do not have the staff to support absences.
“If you’re the only physics teachers in the school and you go out sick, you won’t get a replacement. That’s absolutely certain,” he said.
The committee also heard how a “large number of teachers are expecting babies” and are very concerned about returning to the workplace.
John Boyle, general secretary of the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO), said some female teachers who are pregnant are being advised by their GPs not to return to school.
This is despite HSE advice stating that evidence gathered so far shows that “pregnant women are not at-risk”.
“We don’t fully know how it affects pregnant women and their babies,” the advice on the agency’s website states.
A circular from the Department of Education also states: “Under the current HSE guidelines, a pregnant employee is not deemed to be at very high risk of serious illness from contracting Covid-19, unless suffering from a serious heart condition.”
Mr Boyle said anecdotally the union is hearing that there have been very few applicants for jobs in urban areas and that “in time, this can only get worse”.
He said younger teachers are choosing to work in rural areas where there is a lower cost of living.
Meanwhile, concerns were also raised about staff having to restrict movements not being paid for time off.
“We do have concerns where a teacher will be self-isolating, if that were to occur a number of times throughout the year, it wouldn’t take too long to mount up the days so that the teacher would end up being on half pay or potentially no pay due to Covid-19,” Mr Boyle said.
“We know there is Covid pay for people who test positive but if teachers are off for a number of days and test negative, the days will build up,” he added.
Education Minister Norma Foley is due to appear before the committee later today.