Teacher supply report misses the mark again

The INTO rejects key assumptions which underlie the report Developing a Teacher Demand and Supply Model for Ireland 2021 – 2038.

The report, compiled for the Department of Education’s Teacher Supply Steering Group, is based entirely on demographics, assuming that fewer pupils should equate to fewer teachers. It is hardly surprising that a group that has excluded all teacher unions in the state would fail to appreciate that this is only one factor affecting teacher supply and demand.

When the pandemic hit, years of inaction and poor investment in Irish primary education were laid bare for the country to see: the largest class sizes in Europe; no substitute supply system regularly leaving thousands of classes without qualified teachers; an acute shortage of special education places in many areas and low levels of school funding; under resourced school leadership teams. Compared to our European neighbours, long-term neglect had left us in a weak position when calamity hit.

The statistical report published by the Department of Education assumes the government will make no policy changes for primary and special education staffing in the next 17 years. Such a position is simply untenable. While there are staffing challenges ahead, they are not nearly of the magnitude suggested in the headline figures and those challenges, while serious and requiring measures as outlined below, will be of a temporary nature.

From next September, following determined lobbying by INTO members, class sizes in primary schools will reduce by one pupil per class and class sizes in DEIS schools will reduce for the first time. The report takes no account of this change in policy and ignores the commitment by government to continue to reduce our supersized class sizes to EU norms.

This union also highlighted the staffing challenges that have blighted the primary education landscape over the last year. We secured several supply panels of substitute teachers which cover teacher absences. These panels, established last year, should be expanded next year. The report makes no reference to this important staffing development.

After several years of campaigning for critical support for our teaching principals, last year we finally achieved one release day per week (leadership and management day) to enable our overworked teaching principals to step out of the classroom and manage the affairs of their school. These staffing supports, which enable a substitute to be appointed to cover the teaching principal’s class each week, will continue. The report makes no reference to this change in policy.

The statistical findings of this report demonstrate enormous scope for government to retain primary teachers in the system to:

  • Lower our supersized classes by 2025 to the EU average of 20:1.
  • Ensure every pupil has access to a fully qualified teacher every day through a fully resourced supply panel system nationwide.
  • Guarantee that children with special educational needs are taught by fully qualified primary teachers in special schools, special classes and mainstream classes.
  • Provide weekly administrative supports for all teaching principals

INTO General Secretary John Boyle said:

A report covering teacher supply without acknowledging or factoring in necessary and vital public policy changes lacks the vision to make our primary education system truly world class. That dream however, shared by government, will remain a pipe dream unless there is a serious shift in policy. How many times during this pandemic did we read about the scandal of supersized class sizes? How many times did we hear about staffing challenges? For years, this union has highlighted overworked teaching principals who need adequate levels of support. The primary education system was at breaking point when the pandemic hit. We owe it to our pupils and their families to ensure that we are never left so exposed again.

Excluding the voice of teachers from this forum has resulted in a serious under appreciation of the wider issues of class sizes, supply panels, school leaders and diversity in education, all of which need to be addressed urgently.

Parents will, no doubt be shocked to learn that there are tens of thousands of school days on which their children do not have access to a qualified teacher. The INTO vigorously rejects the assumptions on which this report is based and will seek a meeting with the Minister to discuss the many shortfalls in the staffing of primary schools in this country.