Class sizes second largest in EU
'Shocking' school figures will worsen after Budget
Published 26/09/2011 | 05:00
MORE than eight in 10 primary school children are in classes that are bigger than the EU average.
And it is expected to get worse after the next Budget.
Latest figures show that 86pc of primary pupils are in classes of 20 or more, with one in five in classes of more than 30.
Most of the overcrowded classes are in urban areas and in commuter counties adjoining the main cities.
Counties worst affected are Wicklow, Limerick, Kilkenny, Meath, Cork, Kildare, Carlow, Waterford, and Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown in Dublin, where the number of pupils in classes of 30-plus is above the national average.
The Department of Education figures relate to the 2010-11 school year.
While the overall proportion of pupils in supersize classes of 30 or more fell from almost 22pc the previous year, to 19.8pc, there were still 97,000 children in such classes.
In addition, 66.2pc of children are in classes of between 20 and 29, with 14pc in classes of below 20.
The Irish National Teachers Organisation describe the figures as "shocking" and "a wake-up call for parents" in advance of the next Budget.
INTO general secretary Sheila Nunan said Ireland's classes, averaging over 24 pupils, were the second most overcrowded in Europe -- after the UK -- and 20pc higher than the EU average.
Ms Nunan said there was widespread agreement that younger children do not do as well in overcrowded classes.
"When class numbers are reasonable, modern teaching methods are possible and there is more teacher time for children.
"If we want to improve education outcomes for children the last thing that should be done is to increase class sizes."
Ms Nunan said the figures did not include nearly 10,000 pupils in primary schools with special needs, most of whom are integrated into these classes.
She described talk of increasing class sizes in primary schools as "foisting austerity on the young".
"Most children in primary school this year were not even born when the seeds of economic mismanagement were sown. They should not be expected to pay the price of keeping banks alive," she said.
She noted that, a decade ago, the government promised to reduce class sizes for the under nines to less than 20 in line with international best practice.
But, according to today's figures, only 15pc of primary pupils are in classes of less than 20 pupils.
While in opposition, Education Minister Ruairi Quinn described the last government's attempt to increase class sizes as "an attack upon our children, the most vulnerable in our society".
In October 2008, he said that pushing many shy, insecure four-year-old children into classes with more than 30 others made it impossible for under-resourced primary school teachers to cherish all the children equally.
But as he prepares for the December Budget, Mr Quinn has put an increase in the pupil-teacher ratio on the table for next year, as a way of saving money in order to meet the terms of the EU/IMF bailout.