I propose to take Questions Nos. 278 and 279 together.
Management bodies and schools have, in recent years, reported difficulties in recruiting teachers. At primary level this relates mainly to the recruitment of substitute teachers and at post primary to the recruitment of teachers of particular subjects such as STEM, modern foreign languages, Irish and Home Economics.
In response to these difficulties, the Teacher Supply Steering Group, which is chaired by the Secretary General of my Department, was established in March 2018.
The Steering Group is considering the issues that relate to teacher supply under four policy headings: initial teacher education policy, provision, funding and support; data/research requirements; policies and arrangements for schools and teachers that impact on teacher mobility/supply; and promotion of the teaching profession. It is supported in its work by the Teacher Supply Implementation Group and a number of working groups that are looking at specific policy areas. In undertaking its task, the Steering Group is cognisant of the requirement that all persons wishing to teach in recognised schools must meet the professional registration standards and criteria set by the Teaching Council, which is the professional regulatory body for the teaching profession.
The Steering Group is overseeing the Action Plan for Teacher Supply, which I published in November 2018 with twenty-two actions in the four policy areas. Actions include:
- My Department has published Circular 0015/2019 with details of a new teacher sharing scheme for post-primary schools, commencing in the 2019/20 school year.
- Following engagement with the Higher Education Authority (HEA), a number of higher education institutions (HEIs) will provide new post primary initial teacher education (ITE) undergraduate programmes in 2019 in priority subject areas, including mathematics, modern foreign languages and Irish. The HEIs also plan to commence more new undergraduate ITE programmes in 2020.
- The HEA is engaging with HEIs to explore the development of programmes to upskill existing teachers in targeted post primary subject areas and to examine the potential for flexible ITE programmes.
- In the current academic year, an additional €1m has been allocated to the Student Assistance Fund for Professional Master of Education students, increasing the overall fund to €10.1m.
- The Teaching Council is undertaking a review of the implementation of the guidelines for student teacher school placements.
- At primary level, I recently announced the creation of six substitute teacher panels for schools in urban and rural areas. This pilot scheme will see up to 18 teachers hired on full-time contracts. Each teacher will be based in one school and rotate among up to 15 other schools as part of a cluster, with the potential for the scheme to cover 90 schools.
- An online substitute teacher recruitment portal is being developed. It is intended that the portal will be in place for the next school year.
- For the 2018/19 school year, the restrictions on the number of days that teachers on career break may be employed were suspended.
- The Teaching Council is developing more streamlined processes for the registration of teachers qualified in jurisdictions outside the State.
- In December 2018, a national campaign to promote the teaching profession was launched across a number of platforms, including radio and digital media, supported by a new ‘Teaching Transforms’ webpage providing information about teaching as a career.
The Steering Group and the various working groups reporting to it continue to meet on a regular basis and I hope to be in a position to announce further developments in this area over the coming months.