Commenting on the announcement today of teacher allocations for primary schools for the 2022/23 school year, Educate Together has welcomed the focus on developing schools, while calling for allocations to be announced during term time and earlier in the school year in future.
Since 2020, Educate Together has been working with other primary school management organisations* to draw attention to deficits in teaching supports for children with additional needs in new and developing schools. These deficits have arisen because the ‘front-loaded’ model for allocating Special Education Teachers (SETs) that was introduced in 2017 does not take adequate account of the staffing needs of schools whose enrolment is increasing. As a result, schools opened between 2012 and 2019 that are growing have faced significant shortfalls in teacher capacity – in some cases operating at 50% Special Education Teacher capacity compared to national averages. These challenges have been exacerbated by increases in pupil needs due to Covid-19 and teacher shortages over the past two years. Review processes have also proved inaccessible to these schools, many of which are managed by over-worked teaching principals.
In the 2022/23 allocations published today, 100 Special Education Teacher posts have been deployed specifically to meet the needs of new and developing schools. In addition, the profiles of all schools have been updated, resulting in a re-allocation of Special Education Teachers (SETs) across the system. However, changes resulting from this re-allocation were capped at 20%.
Speaking about today’s allocations, Emer Nowlan, CEO of Educate Together said:
We welcome the recognition in today’s announcements of the specific staffing challenges facing developing schools. At this crucial time following school closures, when children with additional needs need more help, not less, these schools have gone above and beyond to try to provide appropriate support with severely limited staffing. We hope that the additional teachers announced today will go some way towards reducing the gap between established and developing schools, and ensure that all children can access the support teaching they need.
In relation to the timing of this announcement on the first day of school Easter holidays, Educate Together has called for the staffing schedule to be announced much earlier in future. Delays in announcing the staffing schedule have a knock-on effect on recruitment and redeployment arrangements. This is especially regrettable at a time of teacher shortages, when Irish schools are competing with schools in other jurisdictions to recruit and retain staff.
Announcing these allocations during the Easter holidays causes considerable difficulties for school principals and boards of management. Although the notice to schools advises that they “are not expected to work on the circular until after the Easter break,” in some cases teachers will be seeking clarity from school management on their employment, and many school principals may feel they cannot hold off, given the limited time remaining to put complex clustering arrangements in place and commence recruitment in time for the new school year.
We are calling now on the Department and the NCSE to commence a full review of the process for allocating SETs and SNAs, as well as the review processes for schools, to take full account of the specific challenges faced by new and developing schools and to ensure that allocations are updated annually for these schools. This review must commence immediately so that staffing allocations are not delayed in the future, and so that principals, boards of management and school staff have certainty much earlier in the school year.
*The group of school management organisations that have been calling for the needs of students with additional needs in developing schools to be addressed includes: Educate Together, National Association of Boards of Management in Special Education (NABMSE), the Muslim Primary Education Board, An Foras Pátrúnachta, the Irish Primary Principals’ Network (IPPN) and Education and Training Boards Ireland (ETBI)