Teachers have told of their anger after being told they may have to stay on next term – despite agreeing redundancy deals.
Some 120 school staff are affected by the confusion. A difficult financial situation is said to have forced the Department of Education to prioritise its spending, leaving teachers in limbo.
Education Minister John O'Dowd has played down the controversy, insisting that no final decisions have been taken.
Those affected include Heather Watson, a P2 teacher from Gorran Primary School in Coleraine.
Mrs Watson, who is nearing retirement age, applied for redundancy so that a younger teacher wouldn't have to. She described the news as devastating.
"There's a human side to it as well, my farewell was planned for tonight," she said. "It's been cancelled, the children's party has been cancelled – one of my little girls said to me this morning: 'But I've made you a card, Mrs Watson'. How do you explain all this to them?"
Schools had applied for a total of 167 redundancies, but the only ones approved by the department are those in schools that are closing or amalgamating.
A 35-year-old teacher who received compulsory redundancy had interviews for other jobs.
She was finally offered a position – only for it to be withdrawn because the redundancy of the teacher she was due to replace was cancelled.
She branded the situation "chaotic".
A third teacher said she had cleared her desk and had her leaving party – only to discover she might have to stay on.
Avril Hall Callaghan, general secretary of the Ulster Teachers' Union, said the situation "defies logic".
"This is an unprecedented decision and really leaves us utterly at a loss, especially as many of these teachers' situations complied with the Department of Education's own criteria for redundancy," she said.
The trade union, the Irish National Teachers Organisation, said that it was a disgraceful announcement after months of uncertainty.
Gerry Murphy, the union's northern secretary, said: "By leaving the decision to effectively the last week of term, they have created confusion and uncertainty through the entire system.
"It's caused significant stress, not only for my members, the teachers, but across the entire school communities."
TUV leader Jim Allister said many schools and teachers had been thrown into disarray.
"Having created the legitimate expectation that redundancies would proceed, the minister's edict shows not just cavalier disregard for the good governance of schools, but typifies the selfish and dictatorial fashion in which the department is run," he said.
Mr O'Dowd said: "This is an ongoing situation and at no stage have I stated that redundancies have been cancelled.
"What I have done is take a decision to release funds for the top priority redundancy applications while stressing that I am continuing to work to secure the funding needed to address the remaining applications.
"No final decisions have been made."
The minister added: "We are obviously facing a very difficult financial environment so there is a need to prioritise available funds accordingly."
The Department of Education said 167 teaching redundancy applications were received. Of these:
- 46 related to schools in a school closure situation at August 31
- 28 were considered to meet the criteria. However, they have not been approved at this stage because of unavailability of funds
- 93 were considered not to meet the criteria.