Recession eroded progress on reducing class sizes, says study

Primary school classes among Europe’s most crowded with almost 25% having 30 students

Richard Bruton: a spokesman for the Minister said additional teachers being allocated this year would see pupil-teacher ratios return to pre-economic crisis levels. Photograph: Colin Keegan, Collins

Much of the progress in reducing class sizes in primary schools during the economic boom has been eroded, according to new research.

Average class sizes in Irish primary schools remain among the highest in Europe with almost a quarter of children in classes of 30 or more.

Significant reductions were secured during the 2000s, when class sizes fell to a low of about 24.5 in the 2008/2009 academic year.

However, research published in the Irish Journal of Education shows that class sizes increased sharply in following years, before levelling out from 2013/14 onwards.


This increase returned class sizes to levels of more than a decade earlier. The impact was heaviest among junior classes.

Better outcomes

Educational research shows that smaller classes lead to better learning outcomes for pupils, particularly in primary schools.

A spokesman for Minister for Education Richard Bruton said last night that additional teachers being allocated this year would see pupil-teacher ratios return to pre-economic crisis levels.

The study, by Cathy Kelleher and Susan Weir of the Educational Research Centre in Drumcondra, notes that "class sizes" – which refer to the number of children ordinarily in a classroom – are a more accurate picture of classroom conditions than "pupil-teacher ratios", which can include staff not assigned to a classroom.

Their research shows the increase took place at a time of recession and increased enrolment of some 18 per cent. It says a further factor was the possible impact of amalgamations and closures of smaller schools.

Latest figures show almost a quarter of pupils in primary schools are in classes of 30 or more.

Disadvantaged schools usually have smaller classes of 20 to 24.The average class size in most developed countries is about 21.

A spokesman for Mr Bruton said ratios were on course to reduce in the current academic year from one teacher for every 28 pupils to one for every 27 pupils.

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent