School class sizes set to increase

 

Teachers, opposition parties and a children’s charity said today students will suffer as a result of a Government proposal to increase class sizes.

They were responding to the Department of Education’s plan to increase the pupil-teacher ratio in a bid to save €75 million.

The proposal – set to be a key part of the next budget – would mean more than 1,100 teaching posts are left unfilled at primary and second level.

Primary class sizes would be increased from 27 to 28 pupils, while secondary school class sizes would increase from 19 to 20 pupils.

The Department of Education said today that nothing had been decided and that all areas of education were being looked at in the context of the budgetary process overall.

Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) deputy general secretary Annette Dolan said the union would campaign strongly against any Government proposals to hike the pupil-teacher ratio.

“We are clearly of the view that this is a completely retrograde step,” Ms Dolan said. “If you increase the pupil teacher ratio even by one, that is not putting one extra student in the class, what it is doing is cutting the range of subject options, making class sizes bigger, giving less focus and attention to weaker students in the classroom.

"Ultimately it’s the students that lose out."

Children’s charity Barnardos has urged Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn to ensure disadvantaged schools are exempt from any further cuts to services, including increases to class sizes.

Chief executive Fergus Finlay said: “The reduction in supports such as special needs assistants, resource teachers, language support teachers and visiting teachers for Travellers are already causing a crisis within the education system.”

He noted the proposal came against the backdrop of the department introducing its National Literacy and Numeracy Strategy. He said the targets in this strategy would be harder to achieve if these cuts were advanced.

“Yet again vulnerable children are being asked to sacrifice their education to save the State money,” Mr Finlay said.

“Last year department figures revealed that more than 106,000 pupils are in classes of 30 or more, while some 8,000 are being educated in classes of 35 or more. This is despite commitments from the previous Government to reduce class sizes in line with EU average.”

Mr Finlay described the Government proposal as an “unimaginative” cost-saving exercise.

Fianna Fáil spokesman on education Brendan Smith TD said the move was "a retrograde step and entirely contrary to the interests of our education system".

"Not only will children’s education suffer as classes become more crowded but we will also see a negative impact on the employment of young teachers."

He said Mr Quinn's predecessor Mary Coughlan "fought tooth and nail" to protect class sizes in last December's budget and had received "full support of her cabinet colleagues".

"In April of this year, Fianna Fáil put forward the first private members motion on education, calling on all parties to support the protection of education and training as a priority area in future budgets," he said.

He added that Mr Quinn had expressed full support for this motion and acknowledged the need to protect the significant progress made in recent years in reducing class sizes.

Sinn Féin education spokesperson Seán Crowe TD said the decision was another U-turn from Fine Gael and the Labour Party which was based on meeting EU/IMF targets "regardless of the social consequences for children".

"This proposal comes at a time when the government is slashing special needs assistants. We already have some of largest class sizes in Europe with 100,000 in classes of more than 30 pupils."

Mr Crowe said large class sizes had, in the past, resulted in pupils leaving school without basic skills such as being able to read or write.