Sharp rise in numbers enrolling for primary school

Some 71,000 junior infants are expected to start school this year, early figures show

Early figures show that  71,000 junior infant pupils will enrol this year

Early figures show that 71,000 junior infant pupils will enrol this year


It is back to school for thousands of Irish children over the coming days, with many primary schools set to open on Thursday and secondary schools in the days that follow.

This year, however, there will be a subtle difference, not noticed perhaps by the tearful junior infants and their parents, but one that will affect them all in the coming years. Ireland has turned a corner in 2013 and not one that has anything to do with property prices, bond yields or the International Monetary Fund.

From now on, and at least until 2019, the numbers of students accessing primary and secondary education will rise inexorably, putting new pressures on Department of Education and Skills budgets even as Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn considers how to make cuts worth a reported €100 million for 2014.

Early figures
The schools enrolment tsunami is already on the move with a rise in the numbers of pupils going into primary clearly visible y. Full statistics will be available next month from the department but early figures show that it expects 71,000 junior infant pupils to enrol this year.

This is a 15,000 increase on 10 years ago. And based on the numbers now departing sixth class, there will be about 60,000 new students going into post-primary for 2013.

Underlying trend
A single year’s numbers cannot indicate a trend, and in fact the numbers sitting the Leaving Cert exams were in gradual decline over the past few years.

This, however, belies the underlying trend in access to education which according to figures from the department will be strongly upwards. In July it published a document, Projections of Full-Time Enrolment Primary and Second Level, 2013-2031.

The projections point to rising participation in education at least until 2019 with education at all levels seeing unprecedented increases in student numbers. The education system will be under severe stress unless capital spending can be found to build schools and provide educational facilities right through third level.

Primary enrolments are projected to rise by about 37,000 pupils by 2015, peaking at about 596,000 by 2019 before beginning to reduce, the document says.

Post-primary enrolments will rise by about 16,000 by 2015 but at this level the rise is expected to be sustained through 2026 hitting a peak at about 416,000 pupils before reducing.

While fertility and migration have an impact “the underlying demographic structure of the population is the main driver of changes in enrolment patterns”, the document said. Births increased annually from the beginning of the last decade and began to affect primary school enrolments from the mid-2000s onward.

This wave will be carried right through to third level, something that the Higher Education Authority has repeatedly warned about. Some 60 per cent of students leaving secondary school currently go on into higher education so if the size of graduating classes increases so too will the cohort entering universities and institutes. These will be hitting the system after years of reduced resources, something that has left higher education with a pared-down ability to deal with bigger numbers.

The department says the demographic changes are taken into account during the annual estimates process and funding is provided to match this in terms of teachers, schools and supports for higher education.

Budget cuts would seem to counter any capacity to deal with the extra student numbers, however.

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