Education Minister Norma Foley briefed Cabinet colleagues on measures to address the shortage of teachers.
A move to ban career breaks “is not going to produce a solution” to a shortage of teachers, the Dáil has heard.
On Wednesday, the Dáil debated a motion proposed by the Social Democrats, calling for a range of measures to address the serious shortage of teachers in primary and secondary schools.
Social Democrats education spokesman Gary Gannon told TDs the motion focused on a “crisis” in the recruitment and retention of teachers “more than a decade in the making”.
The motion called for permanent, full-time positions for teachers, as well as action on unaffordable housing, which the party considers a major contributor to ongoing shortages.
There are “no quick fixes” to the teacher recruitment crisis, and leadership is needed, Mr Gannon said. “I know people who went into teaching as a vocation, as a passion,” he said, adding that these people can no longer afford to live in cities.
‘Height of hypocrisy’
The recruitment crisis has the potential to impact the most vulnerable students, he added. “It is of particular concern that schools are having to redeploy special education teachers to plug the gaps in mainstream classes.
“It is the height of hypocrisy for the Government to state that special education teachers should not be used as substitutes in mainstream classes when 83% of schools around the country have had to resort to this measure as a last resort.”
On Tuesday, it emerged that the Department of Education is considering suspending career breaks for teachers as part of measures to address the current shortages. This news was “announced like a sledgehammer”, Mr Gannon said.
“There are 2,000 teachers currently on career breaks – this proposal is not going to bring them back into the profession.”
Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said “I was shocked, gobsmacked in fact, to hear that the Minister for Education’s first response to this was a suggestion of cancelling career breaks for teachers.
“And not least because the minister herself is on a career break from teaching. Clearly that is not the answer,” she said.
Minister Norma Foley, a secondary schoolteacher, took a career break when she was elected a TD in the 2020 general election and appointed as Minister for Education.
Social Democrats co-leader Catherine Murphy said Dublin is no longer affordable for many teachers awaiting a permanent post.
The move to ban career breaks “is not going to produce a solution”, she said, adding that well-qualified professionals are attracted into the profession by this flexibility.
“The Government is considering taking that away. In what world does that incentivise people to come back? It may be the final straw that encourages people to leave the profession entirely.”
Supply of teachers
In response, Minister of State for Special Education Josepha Madigan said this is a priority area of action for the Department of Education. It runs a comprehensive programme of work to support the supply of teachers, she added.
“Despite this work it is acknowledged that problems persist when it comes to sourcing teachers.
“While some have spoken of the current challenge as a recruitment and retention problem, the evidence does not support this.”
The number of teachers on the Teaching Council register has more than doubled to more than 116,000 teachers since 2006.
The Department is in contact with teacher education providers “with a view to maximising” students to undertake substitution work for the remainder of the school year. Teacher supply panels are also being reviewed, and may be modified, she added.
“The potential to amend, or suspend on a temporary basis, non-statutory leave arrangements which have the effect of creating demand on substitution in schools is also under consideration.”
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