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Portugal school year begins with thousands of students without a teacher and hundreds of retirements

September 14, 2023

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Schools are beginning to open their doors to students for the 2023-2024 academic year, but they will encounter the same problems in the school premises as in the previous year: around 80 thousand students will not have a teacher for one or more subjects, with a high number of teachers retiring and with strikes already called from the 18th.

This month, 386 teachers retire and, in October, 340, for a total of 726 in the first two months of the school year -- joining the 2207 retired between January and August --, which will lead to a few thousand more students without classes. In the past, these teachers were replaced before the day they actually entered retirement. However, the current rule only allows for replacement after retirement, which, according to school directors contacted by DN, makes the process difficult.

Replacing teachers due to retirement or sick leave is one of the biggest difficulties schools have faced in recent years. "The record number of retirements could necessarily aggravate this difficulty, as at the beginning of the year some schools opened the school competition process, as the national lists are already exhausted, with no opponents, in different recruitment groups. Compounding this situation, the future does not promise major improvements, as the number of young people who intend to take up a teaching career is far below the number of teachers who retire", explains Filinto Lima, president of the board of directors of the National Association of Directors of Groups and Public Schools (ANDAEP).

Paulo Guinote, 55 years old, 2nd cycle History teacher, warns that "the problem has been getting worse, especially since 2018". The solution, he says, could involve "attributing full remuneration to those who come to replace those who have full hours, but with a reduction in the teaching component based on age". "Another would be, for teachers who are expected to retire during the academic year, especially in the first few months, to allow the placement of a substitute from September, doing this part of the year in partnership, which would even have quite a few advantages for newcomers", he says.

André Pestana, coordinator of the Union of All Education Professionals (STOP), believes that "it will be more difficult to replace teachers who retire with other teachers with similar professional/pedagogical training, in order to guarantee excellent learning conditions". "We know that already at the beginning of this school year, many colleagues who had a reduction in teaching due to age and the wear and tear inherent to the profession, are receiving irregular schedules where this reduction, in reality, is not effected by assigning them class directions or teaching work to groups of students. All of this further increases the exhaustion of these teachers, which could increase casualties and/or requests for retirement in the near future", he warns.

The union leader accuses the Ministry of Education (ME) of having "totally irresponsible human resources management, with serious consequences for students". "What the minister does not want those in charge of education to know is that there are more and more students receiving classes from professionals without the necessary professional/pedagogical training to be a teacher. It is essential to guarantee the constitutional right to equity in academic success and this is clearly being questioned by this ME", he highlights to DN.

Lack of teachers

There are currently 764 requested timetables on the ME School Hiring platform. School Hiring includes schedules that were not filled due to lack of candidates in the Recruitment Reserves (RR) and schedules of less than 8 hours per week. Davide Martins -- professor and one of the contributors to the ArLindo blog (one of the most read in the Education sector) -- explains to DN how the calculations are done to obtain the number of affected students, taking into account the schedules requested by schools and the number of hours in each schedule (from 22 to 1 hour per week).

"Each subject has 3 hours on average and classes have an average of 20 students. 11,700 hours are available on the platform, which corresponds to 3,900 classes, which corresponds to 78 thousand affected students. There are almost 80 thousand at the moment, but the number it could be much higher, as 927 slots were not filled on RR2 and many are still expected to leave on the platform throughout the week", he explains.

Davide Martins has no memory of "a year like this with so many schedules at this time of year". "Last year there was an increase, but this year the number of times requested has more than doubled", he concludes.

Arlindo Ferreira, director of the Agrupamento de Escolas Cego do Maio, Póvoa de Varzim, and author of the blog ArLindo also paints a dark picture in relation to the shortage of teachers, especially in the South zone. "In recent years, there have never been so many hours available for competition. It's going to be more difficult, much more difficult in schools in the South and I can't imagine being in that situation and what it must be like to manage a school that way", he says.

The new Dynamic Linking (VD), which allowed around eight thousand teachers to join the ME staff, worsened the lack of teachers in Lisbon and the Algarve. However, next year, teachers now linked to the VD will have to compete at national level, which could make up for the lack of teachers in the South. "This year there is a greater lack of teachers due to the VD. The vacancies open in excess in Zone Tables (QZP) from 1 to 5 and caused them to remain in these QZP and reduced the number of teachers available in the South. This was what was already predicted by the VD. The vacancies were a deception and now it causes there were teachers to be placed when they entered the workforce in the Center and North and the number of teachers missing in the southern areas increased", he explains.

Arlindo Ferreira does not see how the problem can be resolved other than "hiring unqualified teachers".

Strikes and demonstrations

The teachers' protest marked the last school year and the unions guarantee that the protest will not stop. The trade union organizations ASPL, Fenprof, FNE, Pró-Ordem, SEPLEU, Sinape, Sindep, SIPE and Spliu have already called strikes regarding overwork, overtime and all activities integrated into the non-teaching component of the establishment from today onwards, first day of the school year. The same union platforms also scheduled a national strike for October 6th, plus a series of "initiatives that will later be revealed" to mark Teacher's Day, in the first week of that month. The first advance notices for these strikes were presented on August 28, to the Prime Minister and the Minister of Education.

The Union of All Education Professionals (STOP) delivered advance notices of a national strike, between the 18th and 22nd of September, which culminate in a demonstration in Lisbon (the 22nd).

Filinto Lima foresees great difficulties this school year. "It can be seen that the intense struggle between the Government and the teachers' unions continued, with no end in sight, in order to return peace and stability to public schools. The strikes already scheduled, the various Scheduled and announced forms of struggle could be constraints for the start of the school year and its normal course", he warns.

Paulo Guinote believes in the continuation of the revolt "because it results from a very strong feeling of injustice on the part of those who saw their careers destroyed and their work despised, as well as on the part of those who did not see promises made to them to reduce precariousness fulfilled. ".

"If it is true that there may be attempts to make political use of teaching demands (I am very suspicious of occasional and opportunistic support), the reality is that of a rupture that seems irreparable between the majority of the teaching class and the guardianship, as does the growing retirement of many of the teachers most affected by the measures to amputate their professional career, whether in immediate remuneration or in future retirement [resolves]. Therefore, the year has everything to be hectic, unpredictable, which could have been avoided without any disaster of public finances", he maintains.

It should be remembered that the teachers' protest grew in December 2022, with the change in the competition regime serving as a "final straw". Strikes, demonstrations and protests multiplied, to which the ME responded with minimal services. Frozen service time was the hottest topic in the revolt, with teachers demanding the recovery of 6 years, 6 months and 23 days of service. After many months of negotiation between the supervisory authority and the unions, the ME authorized the recovery of some time, but not all teachers are eligible for this recovery. The solution did not please unions and teachers and the frozen service time will continue to be the basis of the strikes and the protests that lie ahead.

Support for displaced teachers

However, according to STOP, there are "more problems to solve". "There are many concerns, because unfortunately there continue to be many problems in public schools. For example, excessive work/bureaucracy, injustice between teachers in the archipelagos and those on the mainland (which translates in particular into a salary difference between 400 to 600 euros per month) and also the poverty wages, work overload and unworthy careers (or lack of a career) that affect Operational Assistants (AO), Technical Assistants (AT), Senior and Specialized Technicians", highlights André Pestana.

In this context of "devaluation", the STOP coordinator also understands that the lack of teachers will worsen, especially in the South, with the solution being "urgent changes". "To immediately begin to resolve this serious problem that has profoundly harmed many thousands of students in recent years, all displaced Education professionals should be entitled to a decent allowance for accommodation and transportation", he adds.

André Pestana also refers to "almost 20 years of intense attacks, disregard and theft", leading to "almost no one wanting to be a teacher and thousands of teachers with pedagogical training abandoning the profession (for more appealing professions) or asking for early retirement".

"In other words, so that thousands of students do not continue to be harmed (as they have been with these educational policies) it is essential to make the teaching profession appealing. And this will only be possible by valuing and dignifying teachers and also all other Education professionals, because everyone is essential so that our children and young people have what they need and deserve: a public school of excellence (regardless of whether they are children of rich or poor people)", he concludes.

Filinto Lima also asks for support for the accommodation and travel of teachers "placed in areas where renting a house or room is practically impossible, taking into account the teachers' meager salary". "The existence of incentives would make teachers compete for these regions, minimizing the problem", he says.

School calendar is not pleasant

The 2023-2014 academic year starts between today and the 15th, and the 1st period ends on December 18th. The 2nd period begins on January 3, 2024, ending on March 22, with the Easter break. In between, there are the Carnival holidays, from February 12th to 14th. It is the organization of the 3rd period that does not please teachers and school directors.

The third period - which starts on April 8th - has different rhythms, depending on the teaching cycle. Students in the 9th, 11th and 12th years end classes on June 4th. Those in the 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th and 10th years, to 14. For pre-school and 1st cycle, the summer holidays only start on June 28th . "It's similar to last year with the same error of extending pre-school and 1st cycle until the end of June. For children it's harmful, as after a certain point, they are no longer ready to learn further. Furthermore, there are assessment tests in the final stretch. There is excessive work, the classes are not productive, which hinders students and teachers", highlights Arlindo Ferreira.

For the director of the Cego do Maio Group of Schools, "classes should end at the same time as the 2nd and 3rd cycle, also allowing better preparation for the tests". Filinto Lima asks for "a serious reflection on the part of the guardianship, preceded by a debate participated by everyone, and to correct the school calendar, making it equivalent to that of the 2nd and 3rd cycles". “Students and teachers would benefit”, he emphasizes.

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