Student numbers to soar, Census shows


The number of students at second level is set to increase by more than 25 per cent in the period to 2026, placing further pressure on the education budget.

New figures show the projected increase in student numbers at second level is considerably larger than originally been predicted by the Department of Education.

Continuing high birth rates and data from Census 2011 indicates that student numbers will grow from 327,000 this year to 413,000 by 2026.

Previous estimates had put the projected number for 2026 at about 383,000.

Today, the Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) said the revised figures show the education system faces one of the most challenging periods in its history and make clear the need for significant additional investment in the coming years.

The department is already planning for a dramatic increase in enrolment at primary level over the next decade. But this new projection for second level will place further strain on the €9 billion education budget.

With pupil numbers rising, Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn will come under renewed pressure from the Department of Finance to increase class size at both primary and second level.

But teacher unions say the Government must employ more teachers to address the surge in pupil numbers.

TUI general secretary John MacGabhann said the latest projections will necessitate the hiring of teachers to at least maintain the current pupil teacher ratio “which has steadily worsened in recent years as a result of deep cuts”.

The TUI says over 4,500 additional teachers – about 320 per annum - will need to be added to the second level system over the period to 2026.

“This will provide opportunities for the thousands of teachers currently struggling to make a living on part time hours and those pursuing teacher training courses,” said Mr MacGabhain. “Well over a quarter of teachers are on part time hours and low incomes. In too many cases, we are losing these talented young teachers to classrooms in other countries.”

He said the education system has been rocked by various cutbacks over the last four years.

“Teacher numbers have been cut, programmes that benefited marginalised students have been savaged and vital middle management positions such as Year Head are no longer being filled when they become vacant,” he said.

“Principals and teachers are doing everything they can to paper over the cracks and provide a quality frontline service but this will be severely diminished in the event of further attacks on the system.”