Northern Ireland news

Staff shortages leaving Irish medium schools 'struggling' to cope

There are growing concerns about a shortage of teachers to cover classes

THE current staffing crisis in education caused by the continuing rise of Covid-19 cases is leaving Irish-medium schools "struggling" to cope.

The support body for Irish-medium education last night said the lack of resources for the sector has been "compounded" by the growing number of staff absences due to the virus.

Ciarán Mac Giolla Bhéin from Comhairle na Gaelscolaíochta (CnaG) highlighted that the sector does not have "the pool of substitute teachers to pull from", leaving schools "struggling as a result".

It comes amid growing concerns about a shortage of teachers to cover classes.

More than 1,000 school staff across the north contracted Covid-19 in the last four weeks.

The National Association of Head Teachers has said there is not enough substitute teachers and demand was "absolutely huge" with calls from the NASUWT union for schools to close early as a "circuit breaker".

Mr Mac Giolla Bhéin said with "no added resources" in the Irish-medium sector, schools have been left under immense pressure.

"We have been raising these issues for a number of years now - the need for a bespoke strategy in the Irish-medium sector," he said.

"You could say, we are victims of our own success, we have seen a 68 per cent growth in the last 10 years. But unfortunately there is not the support there that we need.

"We are an expanding sector, but we have no added resources and this has been compounded by the rising number of Covid cases particularly among staff.

"As a young sector, we are unable to look for substitute teachers from a pool of retired teachers for example, this is unavailable to us. We don't have the pool of substitute teachers to pull from.

"We are struggling as a result of this and it is being further compounded by Covid-19."

Mr Mac Giolla Bhéin said head teachers have been "performing miracles" to ensure schools remain open.

"The learning of our children is paramount and we are keen to keep children in school and not revert to remote learning again," he said.

"In a lot of schools, it is by leaders performing miracles that we are having to manage to do this.

"More and more school leaders are spending hours every day in the classroom, which is testament to their commitment to our young people - they want to keep the school doors open.

"But it is undoubtedly adding to the pressure that schools and school leaders are under.

"The current situation highlights that often a one size fits all policy doesn't fit the Irish medium sector."

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