Pandemic led some parents to delay children’s school start, report finds

Projected oversupply of primary teachers could allow for reduction of class sizes

Additional teachers could be used to ‘reimagine’ how teaching takes place at primary level. Photograph: iStock

Additional teachers could be used to ‘reimagine’ how teaching takes place at primary level. Photograph: iStock

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Schools have reported instances of parents postponing starting their children in school last year due to Covid-19 concerns, according to a Government report.

Legally, children can be enrolled at primary school from the age of four upwards and must have started their formal education by the age of six.

The paper says these decisions may have deflated primary enrolment for 2020. However, future data will be required to assess the true impact.

The finding is contained in a new paper on developing a better model for projecting the number of teachers needed in schools by the Departments of Education and Public Expenditure.

Separately, the same report notes that registrations of births were significantly lower than normal during last year’s lockdown.

Given that these registrations are used to project pupil numbers, the report says expected enrolments in 2024 are likely to be underestimated by 6,000-7,000 places.

Overall, the report notes that primary level enrolments have peaked and are projected to continue to fall, while post-primary level enrolments are expected to reach a peak in 2024, at which point they will decline.

As a result, it says mainstream teacher numbers at primary level are expected to fall over the medium term as a demographic bubble moves from primary to second level.

Despite the drop in pupil numbers, the report says teacher numbers are projected to increase from 2020 to 2021 due to policy changes such as lower pupil-teacher ratios.

While the general trend is for a reduction in enrolments, projections indicate that population increases in some rapidly growing urban areas will lead to localised demand for additional teachers.

Significant drop

These findings reflect technical reports produced earlier this summer by the Department of Education, which estimate that primary pupil numbers are likely to drop significantly between now and 2036.

A sharp reduction in pupils at primary schools, along with high numbers of teaching graduates, could result in an oversupply of more than 13,000 teachers before the end of the decade, according to official projections.

However, these figures are based on assumptions that there will be no change in pupil-teacher ratios or staffing schedules for schools.

Minister for Education Norma Foley said earlier this summer that a projected oversupply of primary teachers could allow the Government to lower class sizes significantly.

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

Another option being examined by the department involves retraining primary teachers as special education teachers at second level.

Pupil numbers at second level are projected to increase by more than 30,000 up to 2024, before decreasing by 75,000 to 2036.

The technical report says while there is projected to be an oversupply of teachers at second level, the numbers will be significantly smaller.

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