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Irish classrooms among the most overcrowded in developed world

OECD report paints mixed picture of Ireland’s education system

The OECD’s report shows that in Ireland, there were 25 students in primary classes, the fifth highest in the 36-member OECD. Only the UK, Japan, Israel and Chile had slightly larger class sizes.

Ireland has the some of the largest school class sizes in the developed world, according to a major international education report.

The OECD’s Education at a Glance 2018 report notes that smaller classes are often seen as beneficial because they allow teachers to focus more on the needs of individual students.

The average primary school class across the OECD during 2016 had 21 students, while some countries such as Costa Rica, Latvia and Lithuania have as few as 15 or 16 students per class.

In Ireland, there were 25 students in primary classes, the fifth highest in the 36-member OECD. Only the UK, Japan, Israel and Chile had slightly larger class sizes.

Large classes sizes extend into third level, with Ireland recording one of the highest student-teacher ratios in the OECD.

In higher education, student-teacher ratios range from eight to one in Luxembourg and 10 to one in Norway and Sweden.

While the OECD average is 15 to one, class sizes rise to more than 20 to one among a small group of countries including Ireland, India, Indonesia, Turkey, Belgium and Colombia.


The report also provides contrasting pictures of investment in the education system using different measures.

It shows that Ireland was in joint last place out of 33 countries for investment in education as a percentage of GDP (gross domestic product).

In 2015, Ireland invested 3.5 per cent of GDP in education compared to the OECD average of 5 per cent.

However, when investment in education is measured as a proportion of overall government expenditure, Ireland’s ranked above the OECD average.

These figures show Ireland invested 13 per cent of public spending in education during 2015, compared to the OECD average of 11 per cent.

The OECD report notes the discrepancy and says it is explained by the relatively low level of total government expenditure as a proportion of GDP.

Real economy

Economists argue that GDP does not reflect the real economy in Ireland because it is inflated by the activities of multinationals, such as contract manufacturing and onshoring intellectual property assets.

The report also notes that Irish teachers are “moderately well paid” by international standards, with salary levels that are slightly above the OECD average.

While starting salaries are close to OECD and EU averages, they are rose significantly above the average for more experienced teachers with 15 or more years of experience.

However, it also notes that teachers in Irish schools spend more time teaching than most OECD countries.

Irish primary school teachers, for example, teach for 910 hours compared to the EU average of 762 and the OECD average of 784.

The Department of Education has pointed out that the report uses data from 2015 and 2016 and does not reflect the “significant investment made in the education system”.

‘Dire’ need

Teachers’ unions, however, say the report shows “dire”need for investing more in the education system.

“The confirms what we already know. Irish primary school education is underfunded, understaffed and undervalued by the Irish Government, ” said Sheila Nunan, general secretary of the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation.

Teachers’ Union of Ireland president Séamus Lahart said the failure to invest was in the system was a “sustained attack on the most vulnerable in communities across the country”.

ASTI president Breda Lynch said we need a “ radical shake-up” in education investment if the Government hopes to deliver on its goal of having the best education and training system in Europe by 2026 is to be realised.

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