Primary pupil numbers expected to peak at 596,000 by 2019

Enrolments at second level will climb until 2026, report finds


The rapid rise in the numbers of primary students attending schools here will put the wider education system under intolerable stress in the coming years unless the Government increases capital spending.

Student numbers entering primary level are expected to rise to a peak of 596,000 by 2019 before beginning to decline. These pupils will in turn continue on into secondary level, with enrolments there expected to continue to climb at least until 2026.

And if demand for third level continues at its existing pace, up to 60 per cent of students completing their Leaving certs will go on to third level putting the higher education system under serious pressure.

The statistical realities were clear in a report issued yesterday by the Department of Education and Skills, “Projections of full-time enrolment, primary and second level, 2013-2030”.

It mapped out a number of possible scenarios with a best case/worst case comparison. One alarming aspect of these scenarios was the comparatively small differences on predicted student numbers when comparing the best with the worst case.

Factors taken into consideration included existing and projected birth rates and the potential for a net increase in migration. The report makes it clear however “the underlying demographic structure of the population is the main driver of changes in enrolment patterns”.

The only answer to the challenge may be increased funding, said a spokesman for the Irish National Teachers Organisation. “We have been warning government about this for several years but in fairness this Government has known this themselves.”

The problem was being able to find money to provide accommodation and appoint new teachers in the face of reduced budgets, he said. The funding must be found however. “That is a justifiable expenditure. It builds educational capital and supports education which will deliver dividends in the future.”

There has been an attempt by the building section within the Department of Education and Skills to target expenditure on areas of population growth in order to meet future demand for places. This means however that there is less funding available for refurbishment of existing schools or the replacement of prefab classrooms, an education source said.

The Higher Education Authority has also been warning of an impending crisis at third level given the increased numbers of secondary school students coming through the system. Up to 60 per cent of them will take up places at third level if current demand is matched in the coming years, an Authority spokesman said.

The use of advanced technology in education will only be able to expand capacity slightly and will not meet the overall predicted rise in demand for places.

“Increases in the number of pupils expected within the education system are taken into account during the Department’s annual estimates process,” a spokesperson for the Department said.

“The estimates make provision for extra teachers, where required, and for any additional expenditure, including new school buildings, likely to be required as a result of demographic changes.”