Saturday 23 September 2017

Ireland's spend on students is well below the international average – and primary schools fare worst of all

(stock image)
(stock image)
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

Ireland’s spend on students is well below the international average – and primary schools fare worst of all, according to a new report from the international think-tank the OECD

The country ranks 17th out of 32 around the world in terms of what the State devotes, on average, to individual students, from primary through to third level. At primary level alone, Ireland is 19th out of 32.

The findings are based on the day-to day cost of spending on education and includes the number of teachers, and their salaries. The report shows that Ireland devotes a far higher proportion of  spending to pay than is the case elsewhere. This means we spend less on other resources for schools.

The comparison between what Ireland and other countries spend is contained in the latest Education At a Glance report, an annual publication from the OECD.

It provides an overview of the structure, finances and performance of education systems in the 35 OECD countries and a number of partner countries, based on a range of data  from 2014 and 2015.

In terms of education expenditure, it looks at it from various different angles, and one measure is the proportion of national income, known as GDP, devoted to it. In Ireland, it is 4.8pc of GDP, compared with an OECD average of 5.2pc.

According to the report, the average State spend in Ireland on a primary pupilis  the equivalent of €6,464 per year, compared with €8,100-€8,300 on each second-level student and  €8,597 at third-level. The corresponding figures for the OECD are €7,233, €8,200-€8,500  and €10,619.

The figures have been converted from a scale used in the report, based on  the purchasing power in individual countries.

The data dates back to 2014, at the tail end of the era of cuts, although any increases in the education budget since then have been modest

According to the report, in Ireland, more than in other countries  around the world, a far higher proportion of  spending on students is devoted to teachers’ salaries.

Internationally, teachers’ pay accounts for  about 62pc of spending on primary student, and 61-63pc,  at second-level, compared with 76pc and 68-69pc in Ireland.

While starting salaries for teachers in Ireland are on a par with the international average, by the time they have served for 15 years, Irish teachers are on significantly higher pay rates, according to Education at a Glance.

The OECD notes that, even in countries where per-student expenditures are similar, allocations of resources to various levels of education can vary widely.

In its commentary on the report, the Department of Education and Skills picks up on this point and  draws attention to the budgetary trade off between salaries and, for instance, employing more teachers to reduce class sizes.

Irish National Teahcers Organisation (INTO) general secretary Sheila Nunan strongly criticised what she called the unfair funding of Irish primary education.

Ms Nunan said the report clearly showed that primary education “is the Cinderella of the education system when it comes to funding. It is unacceptable that other levels of education are better funded. This blatant inequity must be addressed in Budget 2018 next month.”

She sad OECD report showed most countries spending more per student in 2013 than they did at the start of the crisis in 2008 but Ireland was an exception and was spending less.

Ms Nunan said the main reason for this was that starting salaries for teachers were now below the OECD average. She said this showed the extent of the cuts to new entrant pay imposed by government in recent years and the need to address pay inequality in the teaching profession.

She said Irish primary teachers were among the most productive. They taught more pupils than teachers in other countries with an average class size of 25 pupils compared with EU average of 20 , and taught for 915 hours per year compared to EU 22 average of 767 hours.

Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) general secretary Kieran Christie said the report showed that Ireland’s second-level education service was performing well, despite the fact that investment in education is below the OECD average.

“Ireland’s school completion rate is the third highest out of countries surveyed. In Ireland 91pc of students completing  second-level education, compared with the OECD average of 68pc. Ireland also has a higher rate of transfer of students from second to tertiary level.

Teachers Union of Ireland (TUI) president Joanne Irwin also referred to the high school completion rate in Ireland and  said  teachers should take credit for continuing to provide a high quality education service in the wake of severe cutbacks.

But she said of  particular and serious concern was  the high percentage of Irish 18-24 year-olds neither in education nor employed (18.2oc), which is above the OECD average of 15.3pc.

"Clearly, more options are required for this cohort of young people. Ireland’s public further and adult education sector, which has a proven track record in both providing standalone qualifications and offering routes to further study, should be facilitated in this regard with direct, targeted investment."

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