Responding to Education Minister Minster Bruton’s announcement on teacher shortages, FF Spokesperson Thomas Byrne commented:

“What the Minister announced today was a very minimalist approach to teacher shortage. To just target the career break that teachers can take falls well short of what is needed.

“The Minister is fixated on career breaks. We welcome the approach to allow those already on career break to substitute more and, in fact, recommended it in our Dáil motion to the Minister. However, Minister Bruton’s plan to write to schools advising them when to refuse career breaks is half baked and already dead on arrival.

“What the Minister fails to understand is that schools already have discretion to refuse career breaks if they feel that they are not going to be able to fill posts. The Minister’s campaign against career breaks will do nothing only make the profession less attractive.

“He also says that his department has no statistics on what teachers are doing during career breaks but ‘anecdotally’ it seems to be an issue. It is staggering that an experienced Minister who is an economist would base policy changes on ‘anecdotes’ for which he admits he has no evidence.

“I would also be concerned that a specific targeting of career breaks could engender new industrial relations strife in a sector where there has been no shortage of them in recent years.

“The Minister needs to take a far more comprehensive approach to dealing with this issue. This week Dáil Éireann endorsed a Fianna Fáil motion on the teacher shortage, which the Minister opposed. This motion listed a series of actions that the Minister could take. As will be noted, he has only acted on one of them today.

– Agree a roadmap with teaching unions on how full pay equality will be achieved and in conjunction with that organize a recruitment and advertising campaign aimed at bringing home young Irish teachers temporarily working abroad;
– Establish substitute supply panels again at primary level;
– Consider on a temporary basis allowing teachers who job share to substitute during their days off in their own schools;
– Further expand on a temporary basis the opportunity for teachers on career break to act as substitutes;
– Make it easier for retired teachers to act as substitutes in the short term but ensure that this in no way interferes with the normal teaching labour market;
– Reconsider the need for a second year in PME programmes;
– Rapidly expand undergraduate programmes of initial teacher education to qualify people to be second level teachers;
– Ensure that teachers based in Northern Ireland can register to teach in the Republic of Ireland in an efficient, economic and fair way;
– Ensure that teachers qualified abroad are facilitated into the Irish education system in a reasonable way;
– Expedite the work started following the publication of the 2015 Teaching Council Report; and
– Establish a body within the Department of Education working with education partners tasked with coordinating policy matters concerning teacher supply.

“I would suggest that the Minister follow the recommendations of the Dáil in this matter,” concluded Byrne.