Thursday 27 November 2014

Primary pupils squeezed into 'supersize' classes

Published 01/09/2014 | 02:30

Sheila Nunan, General Secretary INTO
Sheila Nunan, General Secretary INTO
Schools want classes to overcome the cyber bullying. Picture posed.

One in four children in primary schools this year will be squeezed into overcrowded classes of 30 or more.

As the first full week of the new school year gets under way, at least 125,000 pupils will be put into "supersize" classes - up from 96,000 in 2006-07.

The proportion of pupils in classes of 30-plus is the same as last year - 24pc - but the overall rise in school enrolments means more pupils are affected.

Enrolments in mainstream primary classes are expected to grow to more than 533,000 this year, up from 525,141 last year.

Growth

Last year, 124,493 pupils were in classes of 30 or more and, with no improvement in the pupil-teacher ratio, that is likely to be worse now.

Included in last year's figure were 9,639 pupils who were in classes of 35-39 and 121 pupils in classes of 40 or more, the latter where schools merged fifth and sixth class pupils.

The schools with the biggest classes are mainly in the "commuter belt" communities around Dublin.

The problem is greatest in Wicklow and the Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown area, where 31pc of pupils were in classes of 30-plus last year, followed by Meath at 30pc. Other areas where the proportion of pupils in "supersize" classes were above the national average in 2013-14 are Clare, Cork county, Laois and Longford.

The Irish National Teachers Organisation (INTO) said the figures showed the stark reality in schools. INTO general secretary Sheila Nunan said primary school classes were among the most over-crowded in Europe.

She said investment in education should be a government priority and called for a phased reduction in class size, starting in next month's Budget.

"Irish class sizes are back to where they were 10 years ago and getting worse", she said.

Ms Nunan said the primary school classroom was the frontline of the education service.

She said reductions in non-class teachers in recent years meant more responsibility was put on the class teacher to meet the needs of children with little English, special needs or disadvantaged backgrounds.

"The Government needs to spell out how primary schools are to be staffed for the coming years so that teachers can meet the needs of all pupils."

The prevalence of large classes in the country's 3,200 primary schools is a far cry from what was promised a decade ago.

Process

Previous governments began a process of cutting class sizes for pupils up to the age of nine. Progress was made and by 2007/08, the proportion of children in classes of 30 or more had dropped to 20pc.

The economic crash triggered a halt to that - and while there was no official cut in pupil-teacher ratio, support teachers were taken out of the system. Any teacher recruitment since 2008 has been solely to cope with rising enrolments and new schools, rather than to improve pupil-teacher ratio.

Irish Independent

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