Carrick-on-Shannon deputy principal calls for free fees for student teachers qualifying in subjects with existing shortages

Paul Byrne appeared before the Joint Committee on Education and Skills

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Carrick-on-Shannon deputy principal calls for free fees for student teachers qualifying in subjects with existing  shortages

The NAPD are proposing that the examination of Junior and Leaving Certificate subjects should be staggered from Christmas onwards.

The National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals (NAPD) appeared before the Joint Committee on Education and Skills (the Committee), yesterday, Tuesday,  to call for urgent action on teacher shortages.

Carrick-on-Shannon Community School deputy principal, Paul Byrne, speaking on behalf of the NAPD, told the Committee that there are immediate measures which could be implemented to ease the teacher shortage crisis in the short-term.

Briefing the Committee on the crisis, Mr Byrne said, “While a sustainable long-term strategy is crucial, there are also measures we can and should take in the short-term which will make a substantial difference to the teacher supply and substitution issue.”

The NAPD have suggested a number of short and longer-term measures which would help tackle the growing crisis:

These include:

- Student teachers specialising in key subjects could be employed for 12 hours work in the schools where they’re also completing practical training.

- A new fee waiver scheme for student teachers specialising in key subjects with acute shortages. This would involve a requirement that graduates benefiting from the scheme commit to working in the Irish Education system for a minimum of five years immediately following graduation.

- A new National State body with responsibility for monitoring teacher supply and liaising with relevant stakeholders to ensure shortages are identified early and addressed urgently.

- Investigate the possibility of moving all oral and practical examinations into the Half-Term and Easter breaks.

- A National Substitute Database for both primary and secondary teachers comprising a single digital platform for speedy sourcing of registered and vetted substitute teachers.

Mr Byrne told the Committee, “We have a pool of student teachers available who could be given substitute work in the event of a school being unable to fill a vacancy through the normal recruitment process. Students in their second year of the new Post Graduate Masters of Education are well placed to fill such vacancies to a maximum of 12 hours or less per week.”

Mr Byrne said, “Principals and Deputy Principals know first-hand the reasons why we’re experiencing these shortages. These reasons are complicated, but there are a number of measures that can be adopted immediately which would help ease the pressure on schools.”

Mr Byrne said that teachers are missing school days in order to attend training and exam marking conferences organised by the Schools Examination Commission (SEC). Substitute teachers are then needed to teach the absent teachers’ classes.

The SEC could stagger the practical and oral examinations throughout the year, starting from Christmas, which would make sourcing substitution for teachers working for the SEC more manageable.

“Another solution would be to move training days and marking conferences for Junior and Leaving Certificate exams to Saturdays, rather than weekdays. This would immediately reduce the number of days teachers are absent,” Mr Byrne added.

“Another possible action would be to move all schools-based practical and oral examinations into the Half-Term and Easter breaks.”

NAPD is also calling on the Government to identify key pressure subjects where shortages are greatest (for example, Irish, French, German), and prioritise recruitment of Masters of Education students with particular interests in these areas.

“One way to incentivise subject areas in short supply is for the State to pay the fees for student teachers at Masters level. Fees are high and after four years of an undergraduate degree, two more years studying, without an income, is very unattractive for students.

"We know that student accommodation is in short supply and rents are rising all the time so these are all factors which drive down the number of people who are willing or able to qualify as teachers,” Mr Byrne said.

Over the past few years, demand for substitute teachers at post-primary level has been growing while the number of fully-qualified teachers available for substitution has been diminishing.

According to the NAPD, it is incumbent on all stakeholders to address the shortage of teachers urgently and ensure we avoid the continued erosion of teaching time.