Primary teachers call for panels of supply teachers to address ongoing substitute crisis in schools

The shortage of qualified teachers to cover short-term absences is huge challenge for schools across and a threat to long term education standards if not addressed.

Delegates in Killarney at the INTO Congress passed a motion demanding the establishment of supply panels of teachers as a first step in tackling the lack of substitute teachers.

Substitute teachers fill in for regular teachers who are on sick leave and provide cover for other forms of leave such as maternity leave. They are hired by schools on a needs basis. For the last two years there has been a huge shortage of substitute teachers.

The INTO is blaming emigration for the shortage of teachers which it puts down to inferior salaries for new teachers and the lack of regular work. In recent years there has been a major exodus of Irish teachers moving abroad for regular work and better pay.

In the absence of supply panels, many graduate teachers want the certainty of full-time work abroad over uncertain employment patterns at home.

Another factor contributing to the substitute shortage is the rental crisis in urban areas. Increased pupil populations, particularly in the greater Dublin area, demand more teachers – yet rental costs are spiralling, making it unattractive for teachers to live there.

Delegates argued that the only sustainable way of providing substitute cover for short term absences is a proper supply panel.

Orla Mhic Aogain from Galway blamed pay inequality and uncertainty of work for the crisis. She said supply panels would give regular work to young teachers within a confined area and end the waste of principals time searching for substitutes, often on a daily basis. But she said the group that would benefit most from panels of supply teachers would be pupils whose classes would no longer have to be split up when their teacher was absent.

Mary Curley from Co Clare said panels would provide regular valuable work for substitute teachers and end one great negative headache for principals making countless phone calls to source a teacher.

Pat O Sullivan from Mallow told delegates that he knew of a school that had to close for two days because of a lack of available substitute teachers. He said this showed the seriousness of the problem.

Panels of supply teachers were previously established and made permanent in 1997, in 17 areas of the country. A June 2006 review found that the scheme was generally considered by stakeholders to be successful from an educational point of view. However while stating it was relatively expensive in terms of the cost per day of substitution, particularly when compared with the daily rates being paid to casual substitutes, the review went on to argue that simple discontinuance was not a satisfactory option in that it did nothing to address issues around the general quality of casual substitute teaching and the difficulties of providing substitution in areas that are most in need.

The review went on to recommend that in the short term, the scheme be continued and reformed. Despite this in Budget 2010, it was announced that the scheme would be ceased from the start of the 2010/2011 school year a decision condemned at the INTO at the time.