‘Dire’ situation as massive shortage of substitute teachers leaving schools under pressure to get cover
AS Covid numbers rise at an alarming rate in the community schools throughout the Enniscorthy district are under severe pressure looking for substitute teachers with one principal describing the situation as “dire”.
John Halford, Principal in Scoil Naomh Maodhog in Ferns, said Covid has exacerbated a situation that was already a concern.
“There is a huge shortage of substitute teachers and because of the increased numbers it’s been very hard to get substitutes,” he said.
“It’s an absolutely huge problem,” he added.
John also said that it’s not just a Covid-related problem although the pandemic and rising numbers has compounded the issue.
“There just aren’t enough teachers in the system anyway and the current climate isn’t helping,” he said.
There is a supply panel for primary schools that was introduced because of the pandemic, however, for the entire Enniscorthy district area there are currently two teachers on that panel and that means close to 25 schools could be looking for those two teachers.
“That’s the situation here but it’s replicated across the county,” said John.
He said he regularly phones between 30 and 40 people in the hope of getting a substitute teacher and that’s the reality for schools throughout the district.
Another issue is that where before classes could be split if a teacher was out that’s not possible anymore because of the pandemic.
“The situation was bad before but now it’s dire,” said John.
Principal in St Aidan’s Primary School, Frank Murphy, said between 15 and 20 per cent of teachers in the school have been out over the last few weeks and getting substitute teachers has been a big issue.
“You are also just plugging holes,” he said
“I have my own panel of subs that I would use and I have to make sure the classes are covered,” he added.
He said learning support suffers and that its those with learning needs that are most affected.
“Last year you could ask to bank the hours if you couldn’t get the substitute teachers and if I had 10 teachers out I might get five subs but you could bank the hours and the get the extra teachers back but that has been done away with now,” he said.
Frank said Government support has been severely lacking for the primary sector and said: “I would bring it back to civil servants and people who do not know what the reality is on the ground.”
He said that if a decision is made to bring in measures in the community into schools then additional support for that is needed.
“The B.Ed course to become a teacher is a four-year course so why not bring in third and fourth year students and free them up to act as substitutes,” he said.
“There are also people doing masters over two years and they could also be used,” he added.
“The decisions are made by people who have no notion about how schools work.”
Frank would also be very hesitant about having antigen testing in schools because it’s not a schools’ responsibility.
“That’s not our role and I think there would be a civil rights issue there too,” he said.
“We cannot impinge on people’s civil rights,” he added.
“It’s evolving all the time and they could be ahead of the curve but they have to be more reasonable about what the situation is on the ground.
“We have to learn to live with this but we need to be supported to do so,” he said.
Norma Doyle in Clonroche National School echoed her colleagues’ views that substitute teachers is a major area of concern.
“That’s the biggest issue at the moment because it’s just very difficult to get substitutes,” she said.
“We are just trying to keep the ship afloat and you have to focus on the basics and keep things going,” she said.
“Everyday is a success if you just get through it,” she added.
She said that going forward she “would worry they will not be able to staff schools”.
“At the moment its bleak but hopefully we will turn it around,” she said.
Brendan Daly, the Principal in FCJ Secondary School in Bunclody, the concerning issue is a little further down the road.
“We’ve heard nothing from the department about going back to remote learning and I don’t think anyone would be in favour of that,” he said.
“I don’t think anyone would have the heart for it,” he added.
However, he said that while cases in and around the school are thankfully very low at the moment nobody knows what’s around the corner and that’s the situation for all schools.
“If it rises in the community it will likely come into the schools as well,” he said.
“We have the substitute and supervision scheme and that is helping us at the moment but when those hours are used up we could face a very serious situation then,” he said.
The scheme means teachers in secondary schools can substitute for absent colleagues for a certain amount of hours per year, however, once those hours are used up the situation for substitute teachers could become as serious for the secondary sector as it is for primary schools.