The Department of Education has announced a new plan for dealing with staff shortages due to increasing Covid-19 cases.
It will see the use of “non-classroom teachers” such as special education teachers and English-language teaching supports in situations where a substitute teacher cannot be found.
The department said the measure should “only be used as a measure of last resort”. It will allow schools to “bank” hours lost by diverting special education teachers into mainstream classes.
The change of policy, which was announced by the department on Monday, is in place until the midterm break in late February.
The department has said, given the current level of employee absences due to Covid-19, schools have on occasion had to use their non-mainstream, non-classroom teachers to maintain in-person education this week.
“The department is also conscious that there are numbers of children absent from school at present, either isolating as a result of Covid-19 or as a close contact,” it said.
“In these circumstances the department is conscious that these children may also have missed an opportunity to get additional support from their SET [special education teacher] and is now permitting the banking of SET hours from January until the February midterm break, in line with all of the additional measures to support schools during this phase of the pandemic.
“Schools are reminded to abide by the terms of the recent information note on sequencing of substitution so that use of SET is minimised but, where it cannot be avoided, schools will be permitted to bank the hours to ensure that children with additional needs continue to be supported.”
Schools have been asked to “make every effort to obtain a substitute” for all teacher absences, including the use of student teachers and administrative principals or deputy principals if applicable.
The new advice “does not impact on children with additional needs in special classes (such as classes for children with autism) as it relates to