Tackling lack of teachers

Trying to find enough teachers for the new academic year will be the biggest challenge in the sector faced by any Greek government in more than 35 years, Education Minister Anna Diamantopoulou said yesterday. Diamantopoulou and her advisers have been trying to solve an arithmetic problem that even the brightest student would have trouble with: ensuring there will be enough teachers to cover all positions at primary and secondary schools when the number of educators retiring has tripled and those being hired has halved. Due to pension reforms, there has been a dramatic rise in the number of teachers seeking to retire this summer. While 4,355 were pensioned off last year, another 11,466 have submitted their retirement papers this year. Meanwhile, compared to the average annual hires of about 6,000 new teachers, public spending cuts mean that only 2,825 educators will take up posts this year. «This is going to be the most difficult school year since the restoration of democracy [in 1974],» said Diamantopoulou. «In order to plug the gaps, we have to prepare thoroughly so we can use the human resources we have and foresee where there may be shortfalls.» Schools are due to open on September 13, so Diamantopoulou and her team will have to work fast if they are to ensure that things run smoothly. Their strategy will revolve around four main principles. Firstly, they will try to make better use of the teachers already in the system, so educators will be moved from schools where there is a surplus to those experiencing shortages. They will also examine the sick leave being taken by some teachers and whether educators are fulfilling the hours they are required to by law. Secondly, Diamantopoulou wants to see some 5,000 teachers who have been transferred to other areas of the public sector return to their original jobs. She said that 300 educators who were being employed at her ministry have been sent back to teach at schools. Thirdly, the government will seek to hire a number of substitute teachers. Diamantopoulou refused to give an exact number but it is believed that between 11,000 and 15,000 people could be employed in this manner. Finally, the minister has given orders for classes to be merged, up to a maximum of 25 pupils.