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Dáil Éireann Debate, Tuesday - 14 December 2021

Tuesday, 14 December 2021

Questions (380, 381)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

380. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Education the extent to which adequate staff and relief staff remains available in schools throughout County Kildare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [61152/21]

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Bernard Durkan

Question:

381. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Education if a means has been found to address the issue of shortages of relief staff within schools throughout the country; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [61153/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Education)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 380 and 381 together.

A range of measures are in place to provide enhanced substitute cover in the context of current challenges.

The higher education institutions (HEIs) have ensured flexibility to programme delivery to enhance the availability of professional master of education (PME) students to undertake substitute work. PME student teachers have been advised to register with the Teaching Council and to register with Sub Seeker, the national substitution portal service to make their availability known to schools.

In addition, the HEIs providing undergraduate programmes of initial teacher education have agreed to facilitate the release of 3rd and year 4th year students to support schools up to the end of the current term. They have also agreed to explore flexible options in relation to the assessment requirement for programmes in the context of students being available to support schools.

The education stakeholders, including the Department, the HEIs and the Teaching Council, will continue to work together to address any practical issues and ensure the ongoing availability of student teachers to support schools pre and post-Christmas.

A further 200 posts have been allocated to the primary substitute teacher supply panels in existing/new areas where significant challenges in sourcing substitution has continued, bringing the total to 680 posts covering approximately 2,600 schools. There are 7 primary substitute teacher supply panels in operation in County Kildare, covering 104 schools. A further 13 positions have been recently sanctioned, increasing the allocation in the county to 33 supply panel teachers.

In order to assist with the recruitment of teachers to supply panels, and in the context of the Covid-19 emergency, the Teaching Council has confirmed that newly qualified teachers (NQTs) who secure posts on supply panels in the 2021/2022 academic year may complete Droichead, the induction framework for NQTs. This is an exceptional time bound measure. Further guidance will be provided by the National Induction Programme for Teachers regarding the role of the base school and partner schools in the process.

The supply panels work alongside the existing methods of sourcing substitute teachers, such as the national substitution portal service Sub Seeker, operated by the Irish Primary Principals' Network and developed in accordance with my Department's Teacher Supply Action Plan. Schools can also make local arrangements to have their own regular substitutes to call on if needed.

In addition to the expansion of the supply panels, qualified teachers on secondment to the Department’s teacher education support services have been asked to make themselves available to provide substitute cover in schools. Arrangements have been made for available teachers from these services to register with Sub Seeker.

Continuing professional development (CPD) where substitution is required has been suspended until after the February 2022 mid-term, with the exception of planned CPD relating to reforms in senior cycle examinable subjects. This measure is being taken on an exceptional basis.

Retired teachers returning to classrooms until the end of the current school term will not have their pension abated.

In exceptional circumstances where there is no substitute available it may be possible for the Treoraí (formerly co-operating teachers) who host student teachers on school placement to provide substitute cover for absences of a very short duration in their own school if another substitute cannot be sourced at short notice. This should be for the shortest time possible until a substitute can be recruited.

At post primary level a new temporary arrangement has been put in place to provide principals with an alternative means of sourcing appropriate substitution cover, preferably with subject appropriate qualifications, where none is otherwise available. This scheme will assist post-primary schools to ensure that they can source sufficient substitution cover, in circumstances where schools cannot source cover through the existing arrangements. Post-primary teachers will now be able to work over 22 hours per week, working extra hours to provide substitute cover, up to a total of 35 additional hours between 29th November and 28th February, 2022.

These recently announced measures are in addition to those already in place, including, for the current school year, changes made to the career break scheme to permit teachers on career break to carry out unlimited substitute work. Changes have also been made to the job sharing scheme to permit job sharing teachers carry out substitute work on the days they are rostered off, in their own or in other schools.

The Teaching Council has undertaken a communications campaign with the over 111,000 teachers on its register to raise awareness to the current teacher substitute challenges and to ask registered teachers who are available to do so to register with Sub Seeker, so that their availability to sub is known to schools seeking substitute teachers.

Primary schools with teaching principals have also been asked to cluster their allocation of principal release days to form a full-time fixed-term post to minimise the requirement for substitute teachers.

The provision of education for children with special needs is an ongoing priority for Government. The numbers of special classes, special education teachers and Special Needs Assistants (SNAs) are at unprecedented levels.

Budget 2022 announced details of funding for an additional 1,165 SNAs (in 2022) to provide support to children with special educational needs, which will bring the total number of SNAs to 19,169 at the end of December 2022. This represents an increase of 81% in the number of SNAs provided since 2011 at which point 10,575 SNAs were available.

The National Council for Special Education (NCSE) has responsibility for coordinating and advising on the education provision for children nationwide. It has well established structures in place for engaging with schools and parents. NCSE seeks to ensure that schools in an area can, between them, cater for all children who have been identified as needing special education placements.

The Special Needs Assistant (SNA) scheme is designed to provide schools with additional adult support staff who can assist children with special educational needs who also have additional and significant care needs. Such support is provided in order to facilitate the attendance of those pupils at school and also to minimise disruption to class or teaching time for the pupils concerned, or for their peers, and with a view to developing their independent living skills.

SNAs are not allocated to individual children but to schools as a school based resource. The deployment of SNAs within schools is a matter for the individual Principal/Board of Management of the school. SNAs should be deployed by the school in a manner which best meets the care support requirements of the children enrolled in the school for whom SNA support has been allocated.

Where circumstances in school change during the course of the 2021/22 school year that materially increase the level of care need in a school to the extent that the school can clearly demonstrate that it cannot be met within the existing SNA allocation, the school may apply to the NCSE for a review. Detailed information on the NCSE exceptional review process is published on the NCSE website ncse.ie/for-schools.

The allocation of 1,165 SNAs announced in Budget 2022 is to meet the care needs of pupils in 2022 and will enable the establishment of new special classes, creation of new places in special schools, support children in mainstream classes for the 2022/23 school year.

My Department provides funding to recognised primary and post-primary schools in the Free Education Scheme to enable them cater for ancillary services. However, the Boards of Management of these schools are responsible for the employment of ancillary staff and ensuring relief staff are put in place as needed. My Department also provides each Education and Training Board (ETB) with an administration and maintenance staffing allocation to support ETB schools, colleges, head office and other centres of education. It is the responsibility of each ETB to recruit and manage staffing levels within this allocation including ensuring relief staff are put in place as needed.

My Department has sought to support ancillary staff during the Covid-19 period through certain actions. For example special working arrangements were put in place and the Employee Assistance Service was extended to ancillary staff.

Question No. 381 answered with Question No. 380.
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