Classrooms in crisis: The urgent need to address teacher staffing gaps

By Oisín Brennan

In 2023, Ireland is experiencing a staffing shortage across a significant proportion of primary and secondary-level schools, which has left many schools struggling and facing uncertainty over what lies ahead in the near future.

There are as many as 800 teaching posts left vacant throughout the country. This is according to a recent survey carried out on over one thousand primary schools on the island of Ireland.

Special education teachers are being used as a coping mechanism to cover staffing issues, which is having a negative impact on vulnerable students who are being left in the dark.

Due to the ever-present high accommodation costs in urban areas and qualified teachers seeking employment abroad, the staffing problem will continue to intensify.

According to the survey, the most affected areas in question include the greater Dublin area, special schools and Gaelscoileanna.

Over the next three months, it is of the belief that there will be no improvement. Up to one thousand two hundred long-term vacancies are projected.

In order to gain an inside scope on the situation, I spoke to the principal of Scoil Náisiúnta Tromaire, Aine Mhic Aodha Bhui.

How has the current staffing shortage affected your school?

“Trumera National School is a small thirty-student and two-teacher Gaelscoil. We are located just outside the village of Trumera in County Laois. As a Gaelscoil, we, in particular, are always seeking to employ qualified teachers with a degree in Irish to join our team of staff. At present, it is proving difficult to seek potential new teachers for the school due to the demand of requiring a high level of Irish.

“My role as principal and teacher is rather enjoyable. Although, the possibility of a potential school closure is always on the horizon. With just two teachers working within the school, we always run the risk of a staffing issue. The school now uses an app to identify potential substitute teachers in case of an emergency. At times, this app tends to be inefficient due to the high demand for substitute teachers around the county of Laois.”

How does this issue impact students in school?

“Due to the current staffing issue, we have had to call on special education teachers and SNAs to come out of their jobs and teach a number of classes. This is an unfair situation for the learning support children who are being left idle as a result. Swapping and changing will not fix this ongoing issue. I am aiming to seek clarity over the upcoming weeks as to how these circumstances can be rectified.”

What could be done to alleviate the current circumstances?

“Before now, a teaching degree could be completed over the course of a three-year period. Teacher practice is getting in the way of a student’s availability to work as a substitute teacher. Perhaps a shorter primary school teaching course could be implemented in the near future. Also, it would beneficial to allow for all third-level students to apply to work as substitute teachers under the current circumstances.”

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