Tens of thousands of spare school places identified for Ukrainian children

Primary enrolments reduced by 25,000 since 2018, according to Department of Education

A Department of Education analysis has identified tens of thousands of spare places in primary and secondary schools as the number of Ukrainian families arriving in Ireland gathers pace.

Ukrainian children of school-going age, who are beneficiaries of the so-called temporary protection directive, are entitled to continue their education in Ireland.

An unpublished report has found there is significant spare capacity at primary level.

On a national level, total primary enrolments peaked in 2018 and have been reducing since.s

The net overall reduction in primary enrolments by 2022/23 was projected to be in the order of 25,000 pupils, a Department of Education spokesman said.

There are fewer spare places overall at second level due to a demographic bulge passing through the post-primary system.

Available capacity across schools varies significantly at local and regional level across the country, in both rural and urban areas.

Government Ministers have signalled there will be a focus on placing families outside major urban centres, where the housing crisis is worst, and ensuring there is access to education, transport and other services.

Early estimates

A Department of Education spokesman said it has been responding through the provision of school places locally as the need arises and planning for the medium and long term in alignment with other Government departments.

While early estimates were that the need for school places may have been in the "low thousands", Minister for Education Norma Foley said recently this number has been " moving upwards".

Latest figures compiled earlier this week indicated almost 7,000 Ukrainians had fled to Ireland. About a third are estimated to be children.

Some Ministers have said that while it is difficult to predict how many Ukrainians will ultimately relocate here, the figure could climb as high as 80-100,000.

A department spokesman said: “The utilisation of capacity within existing schools across the country will be a very important aspect for addressing the need for education provision for Ukrainian children, who are beneficiaries under the temporary protection directive.”

“The department already has data on capacity and under/over subscription at individual schools from its national inventory of school capacity based on schools’ annual enrolment returns and utilises its geographic information system to facilitate spatial analysis of this and other data.”

Ms Foley has said supports for children learning English will be expanded in schools.

Struggling

However, a group representing English language support teachers said the system has been struggling to meet the needs of students whose mother tongue is not English even before the arrival of Ukrainian students.

Philip McCarthy, a spokesman for the 1,000-member English Language Support Teachers’ Association of Ireland, said the number of these teachers has decreased and supports have reduced in recent years

Far greater levels of investment will be needed to boost teacher numbers and provide professional training if schools are to meet the needs of arriving students, he said.

Ms Foley has said work is under way in identifying the likely scale of English language support that may be needed.

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

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