Teacher shortages may see primary school students sent home

ireland
Teacher Shortages May See Primary School Students Sent Home Teacher Shortages May See Primary School Students Sent Home
Schools are being forced to use unqualified staff or special needs teachers to provide cover for classroom teachers who are out sick. Photo: PA Images.
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A growing shortage of substitute teachers could see students in primary schools being sent home, principals have warned.

Schools are being forced to use unqualified staff or special needs teachers to provide cover for classroom teachers who are out sick, according to The Irish Times.

Pairic Clerkin, chief executive of the Irish Primary Principals Network, said schools across the country were unable to source substitutes since the new academic year got under way.

Significant numbers of school staff were unable to turn up for work because of public health guidance, he said, which recommends that staff with cold or flu symptoms should stay at home and get tested.

In addition, Covid-19 precautions mean schools are not supposed to split up classes, which was used a measure of last resort in the past.

Options narrowing

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Mr Clerkin said options are “narrowing” for schools as they attempt to deal with increased teacher absences.

“Far more teachers than usual are out, either because of Covid or because they have symptoms,” he said.

“We’re hearing of larger schools that have nine or 10 teachers out on any given day. While an administrative principal can step in for the day, what happens with the other nine absences?

“Our options are narrowing. We’re reaching a stage where school boards of management will be left with no other option but to send classes home, or keep them at home, for safety reasons.”

Mr Clerkin said another frustration was that schools were being directed to avoid using special education teachers as a back-up because, unlike last year, they are not entitled to “banked” hours. This allows schools to ensure vulnerable children do not lose out on teaching time.

Teachers hired

Minister for Education Norma Foley has said the Government had hired hundreds of additional teachers and expanded teacher supply panels for primary schools.

About 380 teachers have been hired on a full-time basis to provide substitute cover to about 2,500 primary schools.

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She also said flexible arrangements were being introduced to allow student teachers fill short-term vacancies and allow those on career breaks to return without being penalised.

The Department of Education has also said it is in contact with teacher-training colleges to see if more students can be freed up to supply substitute cover in primary schools.

Principals say they are regularly unable to access substitutes from supply panels because they are oversubscribed.

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