Increases in class size

 

A chara, – Class sizes in Irish primary school classrooms have been the second highest in the European Union every year for two decades. The UK tops the league of shame, but at least there they employ a second adult in every classroom. In our context, no matter what economic circumstances we experience, any increase in primary school class size is a retrograde step. Strategic investment in primary education has stimulated economic success across the globe from Scandinavia to southern Asia. It makes perfect sense.

When Sheila Nunan (INTO) pointed out earlier this month that the current Government had actually increased class size in our small schools for the third year in succession she was highlighting the scandalous targeting of these schools by Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn.

Schools with 84 pupils had four mainstream teachers in 2012. Their average class size was 21 pupils, notably with at least two different class groups in each classroom. In 2013, due to Government cutbacks, these schools now have only three mainstream teachers. Consequently their average class size has increased to 28 pupils. This is a year on year increase of 33 per cent.

As a result of this Government’s unequal treatment of small schools, many of which lie at the centre of our rural communities, the quality of primary education in these schools is being compromised.

The reversal of the cuts in small schools must be prioritised in 2014. Children in rural schools deserve the same educational opportunities as those in city suburbs such as Swords.

The EU average class size is less than 20. Ireland now languishes close to an average of 25. Research shows that smaller class sizes, particularly when children are young, produce better educational outcomes, with average students moving from the 50th percentile to above the 60th percentile on achievement tests.

Despite the obstacle of overcrowded classes in most of our Irish primary schools, Ireland’s education system has been remarkably successful, as evidenced by recent Pisa scores.

Imagine how bright the future would look if we had the political will to reduce our average class sizes to 20 like our European neighbours, our economic competitors. We’ve done it in our most disadvantaged schools and are already reaping the rewards. My vision is class sizes of 20 for every primary school pupil by 2020. All it would take is a reduction of one pupil per teacher every September beginning in 2014. As a starting point, surely we will cherish all the nation’s children equally (in big schools and in small schools) by 2016. – Yours, etc,

JOHN BOYLE,

Principal Teacher,

St Colmcille’s Junior

National School,

Knocklyon, Dublin 16.