Primary schools face oversupply of 13,000 teachers by end of decade

Plan to retrain primary teachers as special education tutors at second level

The Government has said the pupil-teacher ratio at primary level will fall to its lowest recorded level in the coming academic year when it falls to 25:1. Photograph: iStock

The Government has said the pupil-teacher ratio at primary level will fall to its lowest recorded level in the coming academic year when it falls to 25:1. Photograph: iStock

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A sharp reduction in pupils at primary schools and 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.

The figure is contained in a technical report produced by the Department of Education which says primary pupil numbers are likely to drop significantly between now and 2036.

The projected surplus of teachers will spark calls for a major reduction in class sizes at primary level, which are among the most overcrowded in Europe.

However, 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.

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

The biggest projected change is at primary where pupil enrolments are projected to fall by more than 130,000 over the next 15 years.

European norms

This could lead to an “excess” of primary teachers growing from more than 13,000 in 2029 to just over 17,000 nine years later.

These figures are based on the presumption that current trends remain, such as falling enrolments, a steady pupil-teacher ratio and consistent rates of teachers graduating.

The Irish Primary Principals’ Network (IPPN) said additional teacher numbers will give the Government a chance to move Irish class sizes in line with European norms.

“We have too many children crammed into classes with 30-plus pupils, especially in urban areas. In a Covid-era, it’s not safe or sustainable,” said Páiric Clerkin of the IPPN.

Labour’s education spokesman Aodhán Ó Riordáin also said a lower pupil-teacher ratio should be a priority for the Government.

“We need more teachers and smaller classes. It is vital that any pupil-teacher ratio reductions apply to Deis schools, especially.”

The Government has said the pupil-teacher ratio at primary level will fall to its lowest recorded level in the coming academic year when it falls to 25:1.