Mr Patsy McGlone (Mid Ulster): To ask the Minister of Education what measures are being taken to ensure that substitute teachers have the relevant subject qualifications to match the classroom curriculum.
Minister of Education: The Department of Education is not the employer of teachers and has no remit to intervene in the day-to-day running of individual schools. Teachers, including substitute teachers, are employed by the Board of Governors for each school setting, with human resource matters carried out in consultation with the relevant employing authority.
Information on the extent to which non-subject specific substitute teachers are teaching specific subjects is not recorded on the Northern Ireland Substitute Teachers’ Register (NISTR) and therefore, is not held by either the Department or the EA.
All school staff are working under extremely challenging circumstances to try to keep schools fully open. The employing authorities are working closely with schools who are experiencing staffing difficulties due to Covid to provide additional support, including sourcing appropriate teaching cover where available.
Some schools have reported high levels of staff absences and difficulty securing appropriate cover, due to both Covid and non-Covid issues, which is causing ongoing potential closure of classes. Staff shortage in some schools, particularly in rural locations is further hampered due to a shortage of substitute teachers (in some subjects) within some geographical areas.
Given the current situation and the need to maximise face-to-face teaching and avoid short-notice class closures, schools should be making every effort to secure substitute teachers and, where necessary, to consider using those that might not satisfy all of their preferred criteria, for example not having a particular specialism / subject etc. to cover short-term staff absences.
I am aware of the difficulties that principals have reported when trying to secure substitute teachers, often contacting many only to find that they are unavailable to work. Current feedback from schools clearly demonstrates that despite these efforts demand for emergency cover in schools is sometimes outstripping current supply.
My Department continues to work closely with the employing authorities, schools and the wider education sector to explore a number of options to provide additional support and direction to schools around monitoring and responding to pressures; looking at how as a sector they can try and fill some of the resourcing gaps especially around substitute teachers; and enabling school leaders to focus their efforts on responding to the challenges and continuing to keep children in school.