Oversupply of primary teachers may ‘enable lower class sizes’

Fresh data show fall in pupil numbers could mean 13,000 extra teachers by end of decade

Minister for Education Norma Foley said additional teachers could be used to ‘reimagine’ how teaching takes place at primary level. File photograph: Getty

Minister for Education Norma Foley said additional teachers could be used to ‘reimagine’ how teaching takes place at primary level. File photograph: Getty

 

A projected oversupply of thousands of primary teachers over the coming years could allow the Government to lower class sizes significantly, according to Minister for Education Norma Foley.

She was speaking following a Department of Education analysis that estimates a drop in pupils at primary level and high numbers of teaching graduates could result in an excess of more than 13,000 teachers before the end of the decade.

Ms Foley said these additional teachers could be used to “reimagine” how teaching takes place at primary level by re-skilling teachers to deliver foreign languages, science subjects or other areas of learning.

She also said it was a strong commitment of the Government to further reduce pupil-teacher ratios, where possible.

The average number of pupils per teacher at primary level is set to drop to 25:1 later this year, the lowest on record. However, the EU average is about 20 pupils per class.

Ms Foley said smaller class sizes are “hugely positive” for teaching and learning and there was scope to examine the capacity to examine further changes and upskilling opportunities.

“When we launch ourselves into discussion of that nature, it’s amazing the opportunities that can be provided. I think it will be very fruitful and very positive, and certainly to the benefit of education and to the young people in education,” she said.

Ms Foley also confirmed that the Government is planning to invest in a “catch-up” support programme for schools in the new academic year.

Research indicates that learning loss has affected many children due to coronavirus-related school closures over the past 18 months, especially among children with additional needs and those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Ms Foley said her officials were still working on the details of the additional supports to be made available to primary and secondary schools and an announcement is likely in the coming weeks.

Special-needs students

She added that she wanted schools to have autonomy over how to use additional resources to meet the specific needs of students.

These supports will be in addition to an expanded “summer programme” in schools, targeted at special-needs students and students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Department officials estimate that more than 80,000 children will be eligible for the two- or three-week programme, but advocacy groups are concerned that many schools have not yet opted into the scheme.

The Minister also defended the decision to release Leaving Cert students’ results around three weeks later than normal on September 3rd this year. CAO offers are due to issue several days later.

Ms Foley added that the State Examinations Commission said this additional time was needed to ensure all checks and balances are completed for both exams and accredited grades.

The Minister said that while details for appealing grades are still being worked out, she had “every confidence” this will be done in a timely manner to ensure any upgraded students are able to take up their chosen college courses .

She said the higher education system had shown “remarkable flexibility” last year and she was sure this will happen once again.