Schools face surge in student population


THE GOVERNMENT will need to recruit 3,000 extra teachers to deal with the surge in the school-going population, Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn has acknowledged.

Mr Quinn said the new teachers would be needed to maintain class size at current levels.

The recruitment of so many teachers would be good news for the huge numbers of unemployed teaching graduates. However, in the coming weeks the Department of Education is expected to come under renewed pressure from the Department of Finance to increase class size.

Latest projections suggest there will be an extra 105,000 students in full-time education by 2017. At primary level, the numbers are likely to grow from 515,000 in September 2011 to 579,000 in 2017.

At post-primary level, the numbers are expected to grow from 323,000 in September 2011 to 348,000 in 2017, growing further in the years up to 2026.

Speaking at a Tasc conference on the Nordic education model at Croke Park, Dublin, Mr Quinn also said support for special-needs students and various initiatives to boost social inclusion were costing €2 billion per year.

He said there was a need to ensure that the policy approach was not focused on inputs alone, but more importantly on the educational outcomes being achieved.

“We must get better at ensuring that all schools in receipt of additional Deis supports are following the best practices that allow a real difference to be made for disadvantaged students.

“Similarly, we will spend €1.3 billion on supports for children with special needs this year – it’s vital that we continue exploring the outcomes of that spending.”

On education reform, he said the new Junior Cert – due to be rolled out from 2017 – would acknowledge for the first time that “problems with our assessment damage the teaching and learning in our classrooms”.

In his address the deputy general secretary of the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation, Noel Ward, warned against reintroducing cuts to disadvantaged schools in the forthcoming budget.

Mr Ward said the Minister must not countenance cuts to initiatives such as the Early Start preschool programme in the State’s most disadvantaged schools. Mr Ward said this cut was identified as an option last year and it remained on the menu for this year.

“Any attempt to revisit the cutting of designated schools in our poorest communities and in particular cutting early education in those schools this year will be strongly resisted by my union. If equality is truly a core value, the Minister will not go there,” he said.

Mr Ward said class divisions in Irish society were not often acknowledged but they ran deep and were reflected in the educational system. He said it was “difficult to reconcile stated values which advocate equality with, for example, the State’s funding of private schools at post-primary level”.