Rising student numbers strains education budget


THE NUMBER of students at second level is set to increase by more than 25 per cent in the period to 2026, placing further pressure on the education budget.

New figures show the projected increase in student numbers at second level is considerably larger than originally predicted by the Department of Education.

Continuing high birth rates and data from the 2011 census indicate that student numbers will grow from 327,000 this year to 413,000 by 2026. Previous estimates had put the projected number for 2026 at about 383,000.

The Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) has said the revised figures show the education system is facing one of the most challenging periods in its history and makes clear the need for significant additional investment in the coming years.

The department is already planning for a dramatic increase in enrolment at primary level over the next decade. But this new projection for second level will place further strain on the €9 billion education budget.

With pupil numbers rising, Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn will come under renewed pressure from the Department of Finance to increase class size at both primary and second level.

However, teacher unions say the Government must employ more teachers to address the surge in pupil numbers.

John MacGabhann, general secretary of the TUI, said the latest projections “will necessitate the employment of the appropriate number of teachers to at least maintain the current pupil-teacher ratio, which has steadily worsened in recent years as a result of deep cuts”.

The union said more than 4,500 teachers (about 320 a year) would need to be added to the second-level system over the period to 2026.

Mr MacGabhann said: “Now more than ever, it is essential that every child be provided with the best possible chance to complete second level and secure an estimable Leaving Certificate. It would be an unconscionable subversion of public policy were children to have their legitimate educational aspirations impeded by further cuts in the pupil-teacher ratio by virtue of the year they entered the system. We cannot allow our children to become the victims of historical accident.”

He said the education system had been rocked by various cutbacks over the past four years.

“Teacher numbers have been cut, programmes that benefited marginalised students have been savaged and vital middle management positions such as year head are no longer being filled when they become vacant.”