'We will try to minimise the effects, but there is only so much we can do'


TARGETING THE LITTLE PEOPLE: Exploring the fallout from the education cuts

"THE SIZE of your class affects everything. After all the years of reducing class sizes - promising us a pupil teacher ratio of 20 to one for the under-nines - to turn around and actually increase it to 28 to one is unbelievable."

Siobhán Ní Dhonnachdha, who teaches second class in Gaelscoil na Camóige in Clondalkin, currently has 30 students in her class.

"We're in ancient prefabs, but that's beside the point," she says. "Smaller numbers mean fewer discipline problems in a class. Even the general noise level is lower.

"A teacher has more of an opportunity to help the weaker students and provide for the stronger students. I really notice the difference when a couple of my students are out. You can give more attention to individual children. It's hugely important."

The primary school curriculum places great emphasis on the use of concrete materials and group work to aid learning.

Ní Dhonnachdha says: "How can you do that when so many children are squashed into a small classroom? I don't have the space in my class to store materials, let alone the space to enable children to use them. They introduced the new curriculum but they don't allow us to implement it."

Her dismay is shared by Peter Woods, principal of Holy Trinity National School in Mervue, Galway. The school was due to lose a teacher because of a slight drop in numbers. Now because of the new pupil-teacher ratio, he is going to lose another.

At primary level, one teacher will be appointed for every 28 students rather than the current situation of one for every 27, resulting in 200 fewer teachers at the beginning of the next school year than in September 2008, according to the Department of Education.

Woods, who will also lose four of his six language-support teachers, is exasperated.

"I have done my utmost to keep classes small in this school," he says. "The most we have in any class is 25. We are a disadvantaged school and small classes really give children the best chance to learn. I have no idea how I'm going to keep numbers down, but I absolutely have to find a teacher from somewhere . . . If you offered me €50,000 of funding or a teacher, I would take a teacher every time."

At post-primary level, the student-teacher ratio has been raised from 18 to one to 19 to one. The Department of Education believes that this will result in 200 fewer teachers in the system. The TUI says 1,200 teaching posts will go.

Principal of Castleknock Community College John Cronin agrees that the department has miscalculated and says the impact of the increase will be huge.

"The naivety of them to think that this increase is a simple matter of an extra student in each class is unbelievable," he says. "They simply do not understand how a secondary school works."

Cronin is set to lose four teachers.

"It will impact on class size, of course. We have an open enrolment policy so we have students with special needs such as Down syndrome and Asperger's syndrome. This will certainly affect the quality of their teaching and learning. We will try to minimise the effects, of course, but there is only so much we can do."

Dermot Curran, principal of Kilkenny CBS, expects to lose two or three teachers as a result of the increase. This may have serious repercussions for the range of subject options that the school will be able to provide to students. "We will have to cut back," he says. "We won't be able to cater for students who want to do the less popular subjects."

Cronin agrees. "We've been encouraged to promote the sciences but now we might have to look at reducing the choice for students in that respect. Less popular subjects such as German, accountancy are equally important."

"It is going to interfere with every teacher's ability to do their jobs," says Ní Dhonnachdha. "But I really think the emphasis should be on the students in this. This will affect their chance to learn. They are the ones targeted and they should be the focus."


Tomorrow: Protestant schools

Friday: Substitution - uncertified sick leave

Saturday: Substitution - on school business