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Monday 30 January 2023 Dublin: 5°C
Sam Boal
# teacher shortages
Career breaks for teachers may be suspended in response to staff shortages
Schools have come under pressure due to unfilled job vacancies and teacher shortages.

GOVERNMENT IS CONSIDERING suspending career breaks for teachers in response to a shortage of staff in schools around the country.

At an incorporeal Cabinet meeting today, it is understood that Education Minister Norma Foley received approval for a number of measures to deal with the ongoing problems around teacher shortages. 

The option of suspending or amending career breaks is understood to be under consideration, but the Department of Education will consult with the unions before taking any final decision. 

For a number of months now, schools have come under increasing pressure due to unfilled job vacancies and teacher shortages, with some principals stating that the rising cost-of-living is resulting in teachers not being able to afford to live in urban areas in particular. 

As a response, a number of measures are to be advanced by Government such as the  potential to suspend or amend non-statutory leave arrangements which the department states has the effect of creating a demand on substitution in schools.

However, the Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) said in a statement this evening that it “notes with dismay media reports this evening suggesting that the Minister for Education is considering the suspension of career breaks to tackle the teacher supply crisis”.  

The union goes on to state: 

We believe that such a measure would make the profession less attractive and ultimately worsen the teacher recruitment and teacher crisis.  
It is also completely unacceptable that such a measure would be put forward without any consultation.  

The union said it has already outlined some of the measures that are required to tackle this crisis, such as providing second level teachers with full-time jobs from when they commence their careers.

A survey of its members this year showed that 65% of teachers appointed after 2011 did not get a contract of full hours upon initial appointment.

The union has also called for pay restoration, stating that these middle-management positions ensure the smooth running of schools but were unilaterally cut by Government in 2009, and have never been fully restored.

The teachers’ union also said it is “bizarre” that there is no teacher union representation on the department’s Teacher Supply Steering Group, which has representatives of all types except for the actual practitioners who know the day-to-day reality in schools.

The qualifying time required to be a teacher must be reduced also, said the union, stating that too many cannot afford to undertake a four-year degree followed by a two-year placement. 

In addition to the scrapping of career breaks, it is understood the department is in discussions with Hibernia College in relation to approximately 800 second year postgraduate Professional Master of Education (PME) students, who have completed their latest school placement block. 

The postgrads are available to the school system in the coming weeks, with the department stating that it aims to maximise the availability of their PME students to undertake substitution work for the remaining school year.

Teachers trained in the UK

In addition, the Teaching Council will be requested to carry out a review of the Teaching Council registration process for those qualified outside the State.

The Teaching Council has been asked to consider the temporary reintroduction of facilitating UK-trained teachers undertaking their induction in Ireland, which was offered during Covid-19.

The teacher supply panels at primary level are currently undergoing a review regarding their usage and effectiveness, and it is believed this may lead to some modification from the current approach in terms of how recruitment from the panels operates.

Changes are also expected to be made to the existing upskilling programmes in priority subject areas. 

While not opposing a motion on teacher shortages to be tabled by the Social Democrats, the education minister will also set out the measures her department has taken to date to deal with the issue. 

These including processing the registration of newly qualified teachers, as well as permitting student teachers to be employed by a school to cover substitutable vacancies in either primary or post-primary sector.

Job sharing teachers

On a temporary basis for the 2022/23 school year, job sharing teachers, who often operate on a week on, week off basis, may be employed to work in a substitute capacity, during the period they are rostered off duty, in their own or in other schools. 

The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform has also agreed to a waiver of pension abatement for retired teachers returning to teach for up to 50 days in each of the three calendar years 2021, 2022 and 2023

A scheme to allow post-primary schools to share teachers in priority subjects was also launched this year, with an aim to provide a way for schools to recruit teachers in the high demand subjects.

The department states that to date no schools have availed of the opportunity to recruit a teacher under this scheme. 

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