Schools: Substitute Teachers

Oral Answers to Questions — Education – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:15 pm on 6 December 2021.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Ciara Ferguson Ciara Ferguson Sinn Féin 3:15, 6 December 2021

T2. Ms Ferguson asked the Minister of Education for an update on her plans to ensure that schools have access to adequate substitute cover, given that she will be aware of reports that up to 20% of schools have experienced at least partial closure, often owing to staff shortages, with school leaders being left in an increasingly weak position and finding it difficult to access substitute cover. (AQT 1872/17-22)

Photo of Michelle McIlveen Michelle McIlveen DUP

I thank the Member for her question. The employing authorities are working closely with schools to address that issue. The Northern Ireland Substitute Teacher Register (NISTR) has between 7,000 and 8,000 teachers registered. However, there are challenges in that maybe 3,000 of them are on longer-term or temporary contracts. It is incumbent on schools and the supply teacher to ensure that NISTR is notified if they are in employment, because it creates a challenge for principals when they have to sit at the last minute ringing around 70 to 100 individuals to see whether they are available to come into their schools.

As I said in a previous response, in the EA's emergency resourcing team, a designated named officer for human resources works closely with schools to try to address the issue. I have looked at other suggested options to see if we could enhance the register. We have looked at the options of student teachers, retired teachers, staff in the Education and Training Inspectorate and the EA, and volunteers. Last year, the Department put out a call for volunteers who could supervise in schools, and there were 1,000 applicants. In fact, I applied to do holiday cover if it was required. We have been looking at various options. Some of the options are a bit more limited, particularly that of student teachers, who have had their own training disrupted or may already be in workplaces. The flexibility to second them is a challenge.

Photo of Ciara Ferguson Ciara Ferguson Sinn Féin

Thank you, Minister. I welcome the fact that there is some plan in place and that you are trying to exhaust a range of measures. Hopefully, that will turn the situation around. At the heart of the issue is the needs of children and young people who have to experience yet another term of unsettledness and disrupted learning. Given that some will have exams, too, it will probably be a difficult time. How does the Minister intend to support exam candidates in the context of the huge disruption that they have experienced to date?

Photo of Michelle McIlveen Michelle McIlveen DUP

I thank the Member for her question. My priority is for examinations to take place in this academic year. I am very mindful that A-level students are going into their first public examinations, as they did not have the experience of GCSEs or ASs. That, in itself, means that it is an incredibly anxious for them, never mind the challenges that there are as COVID is still with us.

A series of exams ran between 22 November and 2 December. CCEA will look at some of the data coming back from schools on young people who missed those examinations, and will be able to see the reasons why they did not turn up. There will be options to take those modules again later in the year, particularly in February and during the summer series. We will work alongside schools to assist pupils who missed exams at this point in the year.

Very early on, before the summer break, we made announcements to take account of the potential for disruptions to exams this year. Learners will be permitted to omit units of assessment, which will reduce the overall assessment. We have put in place other mitigations and methods of assistance, particularly for GCSE maths. An Engage programme focused on that. We are keeping an eye on what is going on. Any further contingency arrangements that are required will be put in place.