Minister for Education Joe McHugh has said he wants to see regional supply panels of teachers established to help address the current teacher shortage.

The Department of Education is currently in discussions with primary teachers’ union the INTO with a view to establishing a system.

The panels would employ teachers full-time who would then be available to cover vacancies as they arose in a given region.

Panels such as this used to exist but the last were done away with during the recession on cost grounds.

Minister McHugh, who is attending the Irish Primary Principals' Network conference in Dublin, said while any proposals had yet to be costed, he believed technological advances made the concept more cost efficient than previously.

Schools and organisations, for instance, now have better mechanisms for communicating teacher vacancies.

The conference heard that one of the greatest challenges principals face is finding substitute teachers for short-term and maternity leave cover due to ongoing teacher shortages.

President of the IPPN David Ruddy said many schools would not be able to survive if it were not for the availability of retired teachers to step in. 

Minister McHugh pointed to measures already under way to try to address the shortage, such as a lifting of working restrictions for teachers on career breaks. 

He said his department did not have "all the answers" in this area and he said there were challenges in terms of trying to attract back teachers who had gone abroad.

The minister said he was interested in an IPPN survey, which found that 27% of Irish primary schools had pupils who were homeless.

Separately, the department has written to 12 one-teacher schools offering additional funding to ensure the schools always have two adults present.

There are more than 20 one-teacher schools across the country.

Both the schools and the department recognise the importance, on health and safety grounds, of always having two adults around.

It is believed 12 schools may have difficulty in this regard. Others may have a Special Needs Assistant or other worker who fulfills the criteria. 

The 12 schools have been asked to identify gaps in this regard. The department has said it will augment funding to the schools to ensure cover.

Typically the 'second adult' cover is supplied by a school secretary or a caretaker.