Large class sizes a ‘black mark’ on Ireland’s education record - INTO

Statistics show increase of 8,500 primary pupils in classes of 30-plus pupils in 2012/13

A protest over teacher staffing cuts outside the Department of Education

A protest over teacher staffing cuts outside the Department of Education

 

That almost a quarter of primary school children are in classes of 30 or more is a “black mark” on Ireland’s education record, according to teachers’ union, the INTO.

Departmental statistics revealed that more than 120,000 children, or 23.5 per cent, of primary school children in mainstream schools were in classes of 30 or more in the last school cycle.

In certain local authority areas that percentage was closer to a third, with 31.5 per cent of primary school pupils in Wicklow and 30.6 per cent of those in the Limerick County Council area in classes of 30 or more pupils.

The largest class in the country recorded in the 2012/13 school cycle had 41 pupils in a Co Cork school. Three schools, located in Cork, Monaghan and Galway, each had one class of 40 pupils.

The school that recorded the largest number of primary school children was St Mary’s parish primary school in Drogheda, Co Louth. The smallest school in the country, St Columbus National School on Inishturk off Co Mayo, recorded just three pupils.


Average class sizes
The average class size increased slightly from 24.4 in the 2011/12 school year to 24.7 in 2012/13.

The latest statistics were contained in the department’s annual census of mainstream primary schools conducted on September 30th, 2012.

Peter Mullan of the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation noted that in the 2012/13 year there were more than 8,500 students in classes of 30 or more pupils than in the previous academic year.

“Class sizes have the biggest impact on children’s learning – all the evidence shows that in smaller classes of 20, which is the EU average, learning outcomes improve.

“The evidence also shows that younger children benefit from smaller classes . . . and the third piece of evidence that is very clear is that children from disadvantaged backgrounds do better in smaller classes,” he said, calling for a Government commitment to reduce class sizes.


Barometer
Larry Fleming of Ballinamere National School in Co Offaly and public relations officer with the Irish Primary Principals’ Network, said the “real barometer in any class is the quality of teacher but the simple fact of the matter is that the quality of a teacher, no matter how good, depends on the number of children they have in front of them”.

However, in a statement released yesterday evening, the Department of Education said there had been no change to the pupil-teacher ratio in primary schools.

“Some 900 extra primary and secondary school teachers are being recruited this year to maintain class sizes,” a spokeswoman said.

“The pupil-teacher ratio of 28 to one in primary schools is unchanged under this Government. Class sizes are managed locally by the principal. There will inevitably be individual classes that are bigger or smaller than 28. It is also worth noting that about one-third of all classes have fewer than 25 children.”

Case study

‘In a class of 30 pupils where is the centre of the classroom anymore?’

When Mary Mother of Hope senior national school in Littlepace, Dublin 15, opened its school gates last year, 477 children poured through them.

As with any cohort in this relatively young Dublin suburb, the student population included a diverse mix of children with varying learning and language abilities and socioeconomic backgrounds.

Almost two-thirds – some 64 per cent of pupils – ended up in classes of between 30 and 34 pupils. School principal Enda McGorman said such large classes pose a challenge for teachers trying to meet the diverse needs of all their pupils.

“The reality is the complexity of the classroom now is such that, with bigger class sizes, teachers are finding it hard to meet the huge variety of needs of children,” he said yesterday, after new figures revealed that almost a quarter of Ireland’s primary school children are in classes of 30 or more pupils.

“We have children with special education needs, children from newcomer backgrounds and you have a mix of socioeconomic circumstances as well, and you have all that in one class of 30 pupils – where is the centre of the classroom any more? Where do you teach to?

“If you focus your attention on one child, one group or cohort it is then really challenging to ensure the others are being as well attended to.

“In years past we could have pointed to the resource teacher, to English languages resource teachers, special needs assistants . . . but the supports aren’t there now and yet our class sizes are continuing to grow,” Mr McGorman said.

He said schools are using all the resources at their disposal, including the use of learning support teachers, to help ensure pupils’ needs can be more closely met.

“Smaller class sizes would give us closer proximity to the learning and needs of every child.”