Education Minister Norma Foley has announced a raft of new measures to relieve the staffing crisis faced by schools throughout the country.
At a meeting with the Department of Education on Tuesday, teacher education colleges agreed to free up third- and fourth-year students so they can provide substitution cover in schools up to the end of term.
The colleges have also agreed to explore “flexible options” in relation to assessments so that students will be more available to take up substitution duties if they wish.
An additional 200 further posts will be made available to provide substitute cover to primary schools as part of the primary schools supply panels.
This will bring the total on the panel to 680 posts. Schools have also been directed to defer all continuing professional development (CPD) where substitution is required until after February 2022.
The temporary arrangement to improve the availability of substitute teachers has been put in place until the February mid-term break when it will be reviewed.
The measures have been welcomed by the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) which has been highlighting the serious shortage of substitute teachers in primary schools.
“Principals and teachers have been under tremendous pressure managing Covid-19 in schools. These additional supportive measures will provide some relief and enable primary and special schools to function more effectively over the winter months,” said John Boyle, INTO general secretary.
Meanwhile, proposals to make antigen tests cheaper are in disarray after a Cabinet memo was pulled at the last minute.
Ministers did not discuss the delayed subsidy scheme or indeed Covid in general at their weekly Cabinet meeting, despite warnings of hospitals struggling to cope and significant difficulties for people trying to access PCR test appointments.
The Department of Health last night confirmed 3,666 new Covid cases. There are 638 patients in hospital with the virus, 130 of whom are in intensive care units.
Health Minister Stephen Donnelly indicated almost three weeks ago that the Government would introduce a subsidy to bring the cost of antigen tests down.
Last week, Taoiseach Micheál Martin stressed that the regular use of antigen tests will now be a key component in responding to rising transmission of the virus.
However, a memo which was expected to be brought to Cabinet did not make it onto the agenda as officials continue to hammer out the details of the scheme, which would see the price of tests drop to between €