November 17, 2021
Substitution crisis escalating as many schools face chaos – Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire TD

Sinn Féin spokesperson on Education, Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire TD, has called on Minister Norma Foley to acknowledge the profound substitution crisis debilitating the education system, and act urgently to tackle teaching supply across the country.
The Cork South-Central TD said:
“The last 24 hours have been a remarkable example of how not to communicate. School communities and parents have been left bewildered by mixed messaging and confusion.

“It is absolutely exhausting for anyone working in education or with school-aged children. It’s not good enough and it is very poor leadership from Minister Foley.
“It is very frustrating that we still don’t know how antigen testing is going to be rolled out and that we still don’t have contact tracing, weeks after the Tánaiste acknowledged that some element would be needed.
“Perhaps the most urgent crisis in schools is in substitution, and I don’t know if the Minister has fully grasped the disruption it is causing, it is completely upending education in so many schools.
“The confusion over the possible exemption of school staff from the new 5-day self-isolation rules was causing a lot of anxiety across the school community. I am glad this has been clarified.
“The reality, however, is that these changes are going to have a significant impact on what was already an escalating teaching supply crisis across the state.
“School leaders will be understandably worried about how they are going to find substitution if a member of their staff must isolate in accordance with this new guidance. The system is already incredibly overstretched.
“The Minister needs to wake up to the reality that yesterday’s announcement will compound this substitution crisis. It is crunch time for the Minister, to implement urgent measures to tackle teacher supply.
“The mitigations offered to date do not go far enough, particularly not in this context – school leaders are at their wit’s end working until midnight each night trying to find cover for sick staff members, with full classes of children being sent home as there are simply no subs to be found.    
“The Minister must show leadership here. I cannot understand why the decision to remove banked hours has still not been reversed, relieving the pressure for schools and crucially safeguarding special educational teaching hours.
“That is one action the Minister could immediately take, and there are many others. The Minister could extend substitution panels to the whole country.

“She could take steps to discourage the lengthy block-booking of subs. She could actively explore the use of student teachers where subs cannot be found, and identify teachers on secondment who can assist in this crisis.
“There are solutions to this substitution crisis, they just require political will. I am calling on the Minister today, to engage with the opposition and work together to ensure that schools can remain open safely and sustainably, and that teaching supply issues are tackled once and for all.
“I am also frankly mystified at the Government’s failure to properly examine ventilation. I am seeking a meeting with NPHET, and separately with the Minister in order to seek clarity on why we have no movement in this regard.”

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