Record funding aims to ease pressure on a creaking system

Budget 2022: Opposition will be keen to highlight the fact that much of the system remains overcrowded and underfunded

A teacher measuring and marking places in a classroom for when students return to school after the coronavirus pandemic

The pandemic has shone a light on a creaking education system which, in many respects, is overcrowded and underfunded.

It's little surprise, then, that so many education measures announced in Budget 2022 appear to be a direct response to the arrival of Covid-19.

While super-sized classes were tolerated in the past, they are increasingly unacceptable in the teeth of a global pandemic.

Measures announced in the budget will see class sizes at primary level fall to their lowest level on record. Pupil-teacher ratios, on average, will reduce from 25:1 to 24:1 in the new academic year. There is still a way to go to match the European average of 20:1. In fact, even after this reduction, Irish primary classrooms will remain the most overcrowded in the EU.


The Government is also helped by the fact that there is a reduction in overall pupil numbers at primary level – and reduced demand for teachers – which means it can be done relatively cheaply.

We now know that those most affected by Covid-19 school closures were children with special needs, who experienced the steepest learning losses of all. The largest ever budget for special education is one way of responding to this. Next year just over a quarter of the entire education budget – €2 billion – will go towards more than 1,000 special needs assistants and 1,000 resource teachers.

Again much of this is down to simple demographics: there is a growing number of children who require these supports and the State simply must ensure their needs are met.

Latest research also shows children from poorer backgrounds lost out heavily from school closures. Access to broadband, devices and quiet study spaces were all real issues.

Smaller classes

The budget seeks to expand the Deis scheme for disadvantaged schools. Almost 900 such schools currently benefit from smaller classes and additional literacy and numeracy supports, but it is estimated that about 175 disadvantaged school are not in the scheme.

Under the funding available next year – €18 million – it is likely that dozens of new schools will be added. However, many needy schools still will not qualify for these supports.

At third level the most eye-catching announcement is a €200 increase in maintenance grants. While it’s a step in the right direction the reality is that the spiralling cost of living and renting will quickly swallow it up.

While the Government will be keen to highlight the “biggest ever” education budget, the Opposition will doubtless be keen to insist that much of the system remains overcrowded and underfunded.