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Student teachers to help alleviate substitution crisis in schools amid Covid surge

Year-three and year-four student teachers will be deployed in schools where needed during this academic year, the Department of Education said.

Image: Shutterstock/Halfpoint

Updated Nov 23rd 2021, 9:15 PM

STUDENT TEACHERS ARE to be deployed in schools until the end of this academic year to alleviate the substitution teacher crisis.

Retired teachers and additional substitute teacher panel posts will also be used, according to a note sent to schools this evening.

The Minister for Education Norma Foley met with higher-education institutions today to discuss whether student teachers could be used to boost substitute teacher numbers, amid a crisis in staffing due to Covid-19 infections and isolation advice.

A recent survey conducted by teachers’ union the INTO on 605 staff across 877 schools found that 3.62% of staff reported testing positive for Covid-19 during a two-week period.

11,778 substitutable days were reported during the same period, of which 31.36% were not covered. This meant that pupils were left without teachers during those days.

A spokesperson for the Department of Education said:

“Following positive engagement with the higher-education institutions (HEIs) that provide primary initial teacher education programmes, they have agreed to facilitate release of PME and B.Ed. year 3 and year 4 students to support schools up to the end of term.

“They have also agreed to explore flexible options in relation to the assessment requirement for programmes in the context of students being available to support schools.

“The education stakeholders, including the Department, the HEIs and the Teaching Council, will continue to work together to address any practical issues and ensure the ongoing availability of student teachers to support schools pre and post-Christmas.”

Students on the B.Ed. at DCU’s St Patrick’s Campus have been told that they can do a maximum of two days of substitution as part of a ‘redeployment scheme’ when they are doing their work placements in primary schools, which usually last three weeks. Students on the PME can do three days during their four week placements. 

Students who are not fully qualified will be paid €135.89 a day for their work in primary schools.

The INTO welcomed the measures being proposed in the information note sent to schools by the Department of Education this evening.

It particularly appreciated the flexibility being afforded to student-teachers by the teacher-education institutions to enable them to carry out substitute work, it said.

The union also acknowledged the provision that retired colleagues can carry out substitute work without the threat of their pensions being reduced.

A further 200 additional supply-panel posts will give more schools certainty about access to substitutes, it added.

 During Leaders’ Questions earlier today, and on foot of a question from Independent TD Marian Harkin, the Taoiseach said that given the “once-in-a-century nature of a global pandemic, we do need to take measures now in respect of teacher substitution, which would not take in ordinary peacetime”.

He said that today’s meeting between the Minister and the higher education institutions is not the first engagement they have had, but added that there “have been challenges” in coming to an arrangement.

He said that the Minister for Public Expenditure Michael McGrath had shown “flexibility” in relation to the possibility of using retired teachers also, and that other ministers were looking at other possibilities. 

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“The minister has already provided significant additional resources in terms of the further 100 teachers that were allocated to supply panels where the department had identified areas of greatest need.

“The supply panels now employee 480 teachers, they provide substitute cover to almost 2,600 primary schools across the country, and they work alongside the more traditional existing methods of sourcing substitute teachers, such as the national substitution portal service ‘Sub Seeker’.

“In any one month or in any one year, there can be a whole variety of reasons as to why substitute teaching is required to replace existing teachers.

But not withstanding that, given the fact that we’re in a pandemic, I think we have to show and I think all the stakeholders involved, would have to show flexibility in respect of utilisation of student teachers, and other other alternative methods of providing teachers.

“We have many qualified people who may not, for example, necessarily have the teaching qualification per se, but would have degrees and so on – these are issues we need to look at.

“And, given the circumstances, and given the fact that the vaccination campaign has been very strong, the booster is rolling out, I think if everybody put their heads together, we could get a resolution of this – certainly alleviate the situation.”

With reporting from Christina Finn.

Clarification: An earlier version of this article said that student teachers who were not qualified would not be paid. The article has since been updated to state that unqualified teachers will be paid €135.89 a day for their work in primary schools.

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