I have announced a number of additional measures to provide enhanced substitute cover in the context of current challenges arising from the Covid-19 emergency.
Higher education institutions (HEIs) providing undergraduate programmes of primary initial teacher education (ITE) have agreed to facilitate the release of year 3 and year 4 B.Ed. 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 are being allocated to the primary substitute teacher supply panels in existing/new areas where significant challenges in sourcing substitution have continued, bringing the total to 680 posts covering approximately 2,600 schools. Engagement will take place with the base schools to allocate these posts so that arrangements can be made for the recruitment of additional staff immediately.
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 will made for available teachers from these services to register with an existing primary sub teacher supply panel or Sub Seeker.
Continuing professional development (CPD) at primary level where substitution is required has been suspended until after the February 2022 mid-term break. 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.
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 HEIs providing professional master of education ITE programmes have ensured flexibility in programme delivery to enhance the availability of PME students to undertake substitute work. PME students 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.
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.
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.