Budget 2022: Pupil-teacher ratio to fall to lowest level on record

Student grants to increase by €200 next year in first major change to scheme in a decade

The recruitment of hundreds of additional teachers will see primary school class sizes fall to their lowest on record from next year.

The measure, announced in Budget 2022, will result in the pupil-teacher ration dropping from 25:1 to 24:1.

In special education, an additional 980 teachers and 1,165 special needs assistants will be hired in special and mainstream schools to meet the growing need for support among pupils with additional needs. There will also be an additional 350 mainstream teachers.

Minister of State for special education Josepha Madigan said it was the largest ever budget for special education and would benefit the most vulnerable learners.

More schools are also due to be added to the Deis scheme, which offers targeted support for disadvantaged students by providing extra teaching staff and literacy and numeracy support.

An additional €18 million for the scheme is understood to from part of a wider reform, which will see additional schools targeted with support based on the deprivation index. More Deis schools will also be entitled to an expanded hot school meal programme at a cost of €4 million.

The budget also contains funding for additional administrative principals in special schools and mainstream schools which have two or more special classes.

In addition, non-fee paying voluntary secondary schools will get additional funding following a long-running campaign. The details of this will be announced on Wednesday by the Department of Education.

The budget also makes provision for a deal that will see school secretaries placed on the public service clerical officer scale, bringing an end to a four-decade old two-tier pay system.

School buildings

The €9 billion budget for the department includes €800 million for about 200 school building projects, which would deliver an additional 30,000 places.

In further and higher education, student maintenance grants are due to increase by €200 from next year for more than 60,000 people. It is the first major change to the scheme in a decade.

In addition, the eligibility cut-off point for Student Universal Support Ireland (Susi) grants will increase by €1,000, meaning more families will be entitled to access grants in the new academic year.

Students living closer to their college will also be entitled to a much higher rate of support under the changes. This is a result of reforms to the “non-adjacent” student grant, which will see the eligibility limit cut from 45km to 30km. These rates differ depending on the course being studied and eligibility.

For example, an undergraduate student getting a full Susi grant who lives 32km from college currently gets the adjacent rate of €1,215. From next year, this student would be entitled to a non-adjacent rate of €3,225. The changes come at a time of a spiralling accommodation rates and rises in the cost of living.

Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris also announced an additional €200 million over this year and next to strengthen the financial position of universities and provide capacity for extra students.

The €200 fee for Post Leaving Cert courses, meanwhile, is set to be abolished next year, while there are plans to expand apprenticeships with a new employer apprenticeship grant.

In the area of up-skilling, up to 20,000 places will be made available to support jobseekers and address key skills needs in the economy including for climate and low carbon initiatives. An estimated 35,000 learners will also get to avail of “green skills” modules.

Mr Harris said factors such as Covid-19, Brexit and climate change were fundamentally changing the way we live and work and it is “vital Ireland invests to ensure we are ready for this new normal”.

“We have really significant teaching, learning, research and development capacity in our education institutions that can make a big difference in people’s lives, and it’s vital that we support that.”

Sustainability

Mr Harris also confirmed that he would bring a report on the future sustainability of further and higher education to Government in the “near future”.

He said a detailed implementation process will follow and his officials will engage with the Department of Public Expenditure and stakeholders to progress a “sustainable future funding model and transformation agenda for the sector and ensure it continues to be a cornerstone of our economic success”.

There was a mixed reaction from groups in the education sector following the budget speeches.

The Irish National Teachers' Organisation (INTO) said smaller classes will allow for more individual attention and help meet the Government's ambition of establishing the best education system in Europe.

However, the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland said it was disappointed there was no pupil-teacher ration reduction at second level, while the Teachers' Union of Ireland  said secondary schools will remain "resourced-starved and overcrowded".

At third level, the Irish Universities Association said funding announced was not sufficient to address the "core funding deficit" in the sector. It said the lion's share of additional funds will be absorbed by "stand still" funding requirements and a contribution to funding long-standing pensions deficits.

The Technological Higher Education Association - which represents institutes of technology - said it broadly welcomed the measures announced but was awaiting key details.

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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