Budget cuts would prove ‘catastrophic’ for primary schools

Statistics show almost a quarter of primary school children in classes of 30 or more

 Harry Sweeney (4), Sandymount, holding onto his mother Aine during his first day at school at Star of the Sea primary school in Sandymount last month.    Photograph: Frank Miller/The Irish Times

Harry Sweeney (4), Sandymount, holding onto his mother Aine during his first day at school at Star of the Sea primary school in Sandymount last month. Photograph: Frank Miller/The Irish Times


Further cuts in the primary school sector would prove “catastrophic”, a newly formed alliance has said.

It comes as new statistics reveal that just under a quarter of Irish primary school children are being educated in classes with 30 pupils or more.

The school with the largest number of primary school children is St Mary’s Parish Primary School on the Dublin Road in Drogheda, Co Louth. The school has 977 children, over a third of who are being educated in classes with between 30 and 33 pupils.

The smallest school in the country is St Columbus National School on Inishturk which has just three students in attendance.

Speaking at the launch of a postcard campaign targeted at TDs to stop anticipated cuts in education in the upcoming budget Brendan McCable of the Irish Primary Principals’ Network said the National Alliance for Primary Education was pushing “a common cause which is the belief that there should be no further cuts in this Budget to primary education”.

“Class sizes are going up,” Mr McCabe said, noting that Ireland has one of the highest class sizes in EU while we are also “way above the OECD average on class size”.

“We’re certainly concerned that class size is increasing but we’re also concerned about all of the cuts that, bit by bit, have eaten into primary education to the point where we feel that there is no flesh left on the bone at this stage.

“To make any further cuts it’s going to be detrimental to the education of primary school children”.

“Principals are telling us that they feel their school is running on an absolute shoestring as things stand. A lot of them are telling us that their boards are having great difficulty in actually trying to balance the books and their treasurers are reporting that in many cases they simply can’t balance the books - there’s not sufficient money coming in to meet the costs...I’m talking about the basic costs of running a school.”

“We’re launching today a postcard campaign where we’ll be asking parents in schools to send a postcard to their local TD demanding that he or she should use their office to ensure there are no further cuts to primary school education”.

CEO of the National Parents Council, Áine Lynch said the issue was one for wider society and not just parents and teachers.

“I think sometimes education issues are seen as a school issue or a parent issue but if children today aren’t being educated effectively then that is a societal issue. We want a national recovery. It’s not going to happen if we’re not educating children effectively at primary level - that’s going to have a knock-on effect throughout the years”.

“Society has to support education, not because we need to look after children - that’s a very valid point as well - but because we need to look after society and that can only be done through making sure that children are properly educated.”

The alliance includes the Church of Ireland Board of Education, the Catholic Primary Schools Management Association, Educate Together, An Foras Patrunachta, Gaelscoileanna, the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation, the Irish Primary Principals Network, the National Association of Boards of Management in Special Education and the National Parents’ Council - Primary.

Department of Education statistics have revealed that the number of primary level pupils has increased by 526,422 during the last school year, a rise of 10,000.

Meanwhile the numbers at second-level rose by almost 4,000, according to the department’s Key Statistics for 2012/2013.

While the number of second-level students rose the number of teachers working in secondary schools declined by over 400 to 25,374.

The largest school in State had 977 pupils last year, while the smallest, with just three was on the island of Inisturk.