There are just four teachers on the Teacher Supply Panel for Drogheda – and none covering the the area of south Louth and east Meath outside of the town itself – according to Sinn Féin TD Imelda Munster, who has urged the Minister for Education to address the shortage.
Deputy Munster, citing a survey carried out by school principals in the constituency, estimates that almost 5,000 primary school pupils and 260 teachers who have no access to a teacher supply panel. She has called the situation “untenable”.
“We are all well aware of the issues facing schools around absences since they reopened in August, particularly Covid-related absences. Student teachers have been covering the gaps to date, and the establishment of a Teacher Supply Panel in Drogheda town has also helped, but there are only four teachers on this panel and it is does not address the problem outside of the town,” Deputy Munster said in a statement.
“School principals have carried out a survey and they estimate that in the commuter belt area around Drogheda there are almost 5,000 pupils and over 260 primary school teachers who do not have access to a teacher supply panel.”
The Sinn Féin TD has written to the Minister for Education Norma Foley calling on the establishment of a Teacher Supply Panel for the wider south Louth and east Meath area. She has also criticised a directive from government stating that Special Education teachers should substitute for absent teachers.
“The Department of Education and Skills sent out a directive the Special Education Teachers should step in where a substitute teacher is not available. In my opinion this is not an unacceptable solution, as it disadvantages children who have special educational needs.
“Children with special educational needs have missed out on a lot this year, and it is not fair that they should lose their educational resources in order to plug these gaps,” Deputy Munster continued.
“School principals have concerns that children will have to stay home from school if this matter isn’t addressed. The current stop-gaps are not sufficient. Principals have written to the Minister for Education and I have contacted her office in support of their efforts.
“This government has said that keeping schools open is a priority – if that is the case they need to address this issue by establishing a Teacher Supply Panel in the South Louth and East Meath area immediately.”
The Irish National Teachers Organisation have called the shortage of qualified teachers to cover short-term absences ‘a huge challenge for schools across the country and a threat to long term education standards if not addressed.’
As part of the schools reopening post-Covid-19 lockdown in August, the government said they were adopting additional measures to increase the supply of teachers at both primary and post-primary level, including offering additional hours to the 2,800 teachers who are working part-time in post-primary schools, allowing job-sharing teachers to work additional hours and making it more attractive for teachers on career break to provide substitution and supervision cover.
The Teaching Council are also working to make contact with approximately 6,000 registered teachers who are not currently active in schools.