I am aware that some schools are experiencing difficulty in recruiting adequately qualified substitute teachers, and I am committed to examining all possible means of addressing this issue.
In overall terms, however, the Department has no evidence of a recent or current shortage of primary teachers, including for substitution positions.
There are many different variables which affect the supply of, and demand for, teachers in our schools, such as number of new graduates, number of retirees, Government policy on the pupil teacher ratio, pupil demographics, teacher leave/work patterns (e.g. career breaks, job sharers), geographical location; these are just some of the relevant variables.
In 2015, there was a once off reduction in the number of newly qualified teachers graduating due to the reconfiguration and extension of the programmes of initial teacher education which may have put pressure on supply.
The Deputy should note also that the focus of policy, under the last Government, was to ensure that, to the greatest extent possible, young teachers at the start of their careers, including unemployed teachers, were given priority when it came to recruiting substitute teachers. Circular 31/2011, published in May 2011 and still in force, directs school managers to prioritise unemployed teachers over retired teachers when it comes to recruiting substitute teachers.
The policy objective of my Department is to provide an adequate supply of teachers to meet the demand of schools and, in that regard, a Technical Working Group (TWG) was set up by the Teaching Council to formulate advice on teacher supply. The TWG’s final report was submitted to my predecessor, Minister Jan O’Sullivan, in December 2015.
The Report sets out an approach to planning for teacher supply in the medium to longer term. The approach provides for the identification, collection and validation of data from a range of sources to be followed by a period in which a model for projecting demand and supply of teachers is developed and tested. This work will involve consultation so there is buy in from relevant stakeholders, including teacher education providers.
The Report recognises that the implementation of its recommendations will have significant resource implications, including staffing, and I will not be in a position to progress this aspect in the current year. In the Action Plan for Education for 2017, I have committed to the publication of the Report in quarter 1 together with the actions necessary for the implementation of the recommendations. This approach will provide further clarity for addressing this complex matter.