LOCAL schools spent over £1.4 million on substitute teachers during the last academic year, the Portadown Times can reveal.
The figures, which were obtained by Upper Bann MLA Dolores Kelly, account for primary, secondary and nursery schools in Portadown, Craigavon, and the surrounding areas in 2010-11.
The principals of two schools who have spent some of the biggest amounts on substitute teachers over the last three years have explained their figures.
Portadown College spent £99,617 on substitute cover between September 2009 and August 2010, and £89,760 between September 2010 and August 2011. Between September 2011 and April this year the figure stood at £51,353.
Principal Simon Harper pointed out that the figures included the cost of sending staff to professional development training and costs associated with maternity leave.
He said, “Much of this training is statutory in nature and therefore the College is required to release staff whilst ensuring that classes are covered by suitably qualified and competent substitute teachers. It is also important to note that figures include costs associated with maternity leave.”
Mr Harper, who said some aspects of substitute cover would be reimbursed by external agencies like the CCEA, stressed that the cost of substitute cover due to staff illness at the College is “comparatively low” as the school’s staff absence levels are “well below the average for post primary schools”.
The College also has to find staff cover for “vibrant enrichment activities”.
He added, “Many of these activities are carried out on an unpaid voluntary basis during weekends/holidays, but also must take place during school hours. For example the Duke of Edinburgh Silver Award qualifying expedition requires three days; two of these are during the weekend, the third a school day which necessitates the employment of substitute staff. I am delighted that the College offers such a diverse and engaging programme of extra-curricular activities. Such enrichment activities are essential in preparing our students for life beyond Portadown College and the soft skills developed are keenly sought by universities and employers alike.”
Lismore Comprehensive School, one of the biggest schools in the Southern Education and Library Board area, spent £210,686 on substitute cover between September 2009 and August 2010. The figure was £199,474 between September 201 and August 2011, and the figure between September 2011 and April 2012 stands at £128,336.
Principal Joe Corrigan pointed out that while “the substitute teacher spend appears to be very large for our school, it must be understood that the larger the school, the higher the substitute cover costs will be.
“As the largest school in the area with a student population of over 1,150, and a teaching staff of 79, almost all of whom are full-time, we are always going to incur high sub-cover costs.”
Mr Corrigan stressed that the “vast majority” of this year’s bill is attributable to maternity leave, teacher training and a “small number of staff” on medium or long-term sick leave.
He said, “From September to April of this year, we have paid between £80,000 and £100,000 in substitute teacher costs for the six staff members currently on maternity leave. As a school with a large number of young female teachers, this is a recurring cost and is likely to continue into the future.”
He added, “While we have an allowance into our budget for staff INSERVICE TRAINING costs it falls far short of the actual amount required to cover INSET. There is a growing disconnect between the amount of statutory in-service training teachers are required or recommended to undertake, and contracting school budgets, and this issue needs to be urgently addressed by the Department of Education.”