An “unprecedented” shortage of more than 800 teaching vacancies in primary grades is impacting the education of students most in need, according to a survey of more than 1,000 schools.
As a result, most schools say they are being forced to fill staffing gaps by using special education teachers to replace absent teachers in mainstream classrooms, leaving at-risk students without support. Others use unqualified staff or students to fill gaps.
The survey of just over 1,014 primary and special schools was conducted in the first week of October by the Irish National Teachers’ Organization (INTO) in collaboration with the Irish Primary Principals’ Network (IPPN) and the Catholic Primary Schools Management Association (CPSMA) .
The shortage is blamed on several factors, including the cost of housing in urban areas and teachers taking jobs abroad or in the private sector.
According to the survey, shortages are greatest in the greater Dublin area and at schools in disadvantaged areas, special schools and Gaelscoileanna.
Schools have also flagged that the problem could worsen in the coming months, with another 1,200 long-term positions expected to go unfilled over the next three months.
School leaders say the shortage of short-term replacements is severe and they have never seen such a high number of long-term vacancies.
INTO deputy general secretary Deirdre O’Connor said other countries were offering incentives for Ireland’s primary school teachers to work abroad and the Department for Education had failed to convince them they would be valued here.
“For the sake of students, the next public service agreement must include concrete measures to address the teacher retention crisis,” she said.
The survey shows that two out of three elementary schools used a special education teacher to fill in for an absence this year. Just over 60 schools were forced to do this for more than 20 days by the end of the first month of the current school year.
IPPN chief executive Pairic Clerkin said the shortage was affecting schools’ ability to meet the needs of all students.
“Our members are forced to ensure they have teachers for all mainstream classes, which means they have a reduced cohort of special education teachers working with children with additional needs,” he said.
He added that the challenges of securing replacement cover for teacher absences would prove “even more difficult” this year, making ensuring continuity of care for children even more difficult.
Education Minister Norma Foley has acknowledged the difficulties in finding teachers but said other sectors such as healthcare, hospitality and retail were also facing similar challenges.
She said the government had responded by raising the starting salary for teachers to 35,000 euros, as well as lifting restrictions on job-sharing teachers who could work in substitute roles and restrictions on substitute work for teachers who were theirs Interrupt my career, put it on hold.
In addition, there were a record number of teachers registered with the Teaching Council, while the 2024 budget included restoring middle management positions that were eliminated during the economic downturn.
CPSMA general secretary Seamus Mulconry acknowledged the Department of Education’s efforts to address the shortage, but said the problems were ultimately linked to access to affordable housing.
“It is not a problem to attract young people to a career as teachers. The challenge is making sure they can afford to live and work on the East Coast after they graduate. The government must act now to ensure that teaching in Dublin is a better option than teaching in Dubai,” he said.