The Department of Education has announced additional measures to help increase the availability of substitute teachers.

It comes as schools warn that they are at breaking point amid a crisis level of staff shortages.

The teacher shortage crisis has reached levels never seen before, senior school managers say, and they have warned that it is set to get even worse, as more teachers isolate due to Covid or fall ill in the coming weeks.

Following today's meeting with Minister for Education Norma Foley, the country's teacher education colleges have agreed to facilitate the release of postgraduate and undergraduate 3rd and 4th year students to make them available to support schools.

The colleges have agreed to explore measures, such as changes to the timetabling of assessment requirements so that students can make themselves available in the run up to the Christmas holidays.

The Department of Education will also change regulations to allow retired teachers to work more days in schools without suffering cuts to their pensions.

All teachers on secondment to teacher education support services are also to make themselves available to return to the classroom as substitutes.

All continual professional development for primary school teachers – which leads to a need for replacement teachers – is also to be deferred until after the February mid-term.

The department has also sanctioned an additional 200 posts for substitute supply panels around the country. These are in addition to 480 posts already sanctioned.

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Minister for Education Norma Foley said managing ventilation is also important for schools for managing Covid-19.

Sinn Féin's Rose Conway-Walsh called on the minister to "throw the kitchen sink" at keeping schools safe and urged her to consider HEPA filtration device systems for classrooms.

Addressing the Dáil tonight, Ms Foley said they have followed public health advice and that schools have low transmission rates.

She said issues of ventilation can be addressed however as they have a technical team which can be deployed to schools.

Ms Conway-Walsh said contact tracing is falling solely at principals and called for specific contact tracing for schools.

The minister said again they follow public health advice and what is best practice for schools and there is no question that principals will have to do it.

People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett said he wanted to know where the department was at regarding the Leaving Cert.

Minister Foley said she appreciates that Covid-19 has put focus on the whole senior cycle - she said the review has consulted widely including teaching.

She said she appreciates the urgency regarding the publishing of the report into the senior cycle.

Minister Foley said it will be published in the shortest timeframe possible.

On substitute teachers, Sinn Féin's Ms Conway-Walsh said student teachers will not solve this crisis alone.

She said she cannot understand why "banking hours" for special needs teachers who have been redeployed to the classroom is not allowed anymore.

The minister said a whole myriad of measures are being made available to schools and is not helpful to pit one group of students against another.

Minister Foley said it is not mandatory for a child to participate in antigen testing. Antigen testing is merely a tool and all other measures will be applied in schools, she said.

Ms Foley said there is a "significant body of work under way" where antigen test guidelines will be issued to schools and parents which will be published on 29 November.


Read more:
'Horrendous': One school's experience of challenging Covid times
INTO calls for review over 'soaring' Covid transmission in primary schools