ALMOST £2.5 million has been spent on providing substitute cover for teachers in schools across the district in the past two years.
While the figures, which come from both the schools’ budgets as well as some costs covered by the Department of Education, have dropped slightly this year to date, they still total almost £1 million.
The costs, revealed after a Freedom of Information Request, have been criticised by some politicians who say they are “shocking, in such a time of economic uncertainty”.
Upper Bann MLA Dolores Kelly said she is not convinced pupils and parents are getting good value for money.
Schools, in most cases, must cover the costs for substitute teachers for the first 20 days, thereafter the funding comes centrally from the Department.
However last September Education Minister John O’Dowd introduced an incentive for schools to hire newly qualified teachers by refusing to cover costs for schools who choose to employ the services of a prematurely retired teacher.
The move came after criticism that some schools were re-hiring recently retired teachers in favour of those who had just qualified, at greater cost.
But local principals are adamant they are doing their best to work within a dramatically reduced budget at a time of great constraint.
Banbridge Academy’s substitute costs for the past two years were the highest of all the schools across the district, totalling £284,510.74, with St Patrick’s College coming a close second at £283,644.31.
Academy principal Raymond Pollock said the school has had to make a conscious effort to reduce their spend - with a regrettable knock-on effect on opportunities for pupils.
“We have worked very hard to try andreduce our costsand have had to make savings in our budget.
“We have simply had to introduce savings into the budget and that is reflected in our sub costs. We have made a conscious attempt to live within a reduced budget.
“We have however restricted the number of courses a teacher goes on, the number of trips away and so on in an attempt to make savings
The Academy’s substitute bill has been greatly reduced this year so far, coming in at £67,584.70 compared to £216,926.04.
Mr Pollock said, “The cuts in the education budget are affecting opportunities for teachers and having a direct knock-on effect on the educational experience of our pupils. I am not happy about the cuts but at present I see no alternative.”
He added that the practice of re-employing recently retired teachers as substitutes had never been an issue for Banbridge Academy.
“We have no problem in recruiting newly qualified teachers as substitutes,” he said. “We never have had a problem with this. Different situations require different skills and experience levels but sometimes it is the newly qualified teachers who are best to draft in when there is need for a substitute teacher.”
Principal of Edenderry Primary School, Stephen Wilson, whose figures have dropped by some £30,000 to £48,164.23 so far this year, said the figures cannot be read in isolation and show that there is greater need for substitutes from year to year for a range of reasons.
“There are very good reasons behind these figures,” he said. “The cover is necessary for teachers who are off because of genuine illness or maternity for example.
“I could have a year where there is a teacher off on long-term sick and a few teachers off on maternity - that will ensure the costs rise.
“I think schools are being left to cope on a daily basis with what they have been given. Principals are having to plan further ahead now.”
Mrs Kelly said the situation is far from ideal.
“We have to look at the rationale behind the use of these supply teachers,” said Mrs Kelly, who had earlier criticised the SELB for topping the poll when it came to costs for substitute teachers across Northern Ireland.
“Is this because schools are not being allowed to recruit? Because in that case it is a case of poor management on the Department’s behalf.
“I think it is symbolic of a failure on the issue of education at Executive level.”