Drop in pupils taking 'vital' subjects due to budget cuts
THE fall-out from the first round of education cuts has been laid bare in this year's exam results, with fewer students taking critical subjects such as physics and modern languages.
This year also saw a fall in the numbers sitting the Leaving Certificate Applied.
Teacher unions said the worsening pupil-teacher ratio has led to schools having to drop less popular subjects and this is reflected in a 3.4pc fall in the number of students sitting physics and a fall of almost 5pc in those studying German.
There has also been a disproportionate fall in the numbers doing the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA), which is down 5pc compared to a fall of 0.3pc for the Leaving Certificate overall.
Just 3,191 students completed the programme this year, down from 3,358 in 2010.
Meanwhile, those who completed the Applied programme this year came out with lower grades.
The programme has traditionally helped students, who might otherwise have dropped out of school early, to stay in the education system.
President of the Teachers' Union of Ireland (TUI), Bernie Ruane, said this year's results illustrate the real effects of education cutbacks.
"We are gravely concerned by the fall in the number of students completing the LCA programme and also the fall in the number of distinctions and merits achieved in it this year.
Grants paid to schools who provide the Applied programme were cut in 2009, the same year in which pupil-teacher ratios were increased.
Ms Ruane said it was "no coincidence" that students on the two-year course were coming out with lower grades given the attack on resources.
"This is a clear illustration of the damage that education cuts wreak on the most vulnerable students," she added.
However a spokeswoman for the Department of Education rejected the argument that cutbacks were to blame for a fall in the numbers completing the LCA programme.
She pointed out that changes to pupil-teacher ratios and cuts in grants applied equally to the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) which actually saw a 5pc increase in the numbers taking it.
"Grants for both LCA and LCVP were withdrawn by the last Government as part of the Budget 2009 announcements, but the capitation grant was increased by 4.3pc at the same time.
"Each school is required to manage its range of resources within the teaching allocation provided by the department," she added.
President of the ASTI, Pat King, said schools were dropping "minority" subjects, such as physics and German, in a bid to cope with an increased pupil-teacher ratio.
"What is now emerging is that strategically important subjects have been dropped by some schools.
"It is clear that if the pupil-teacher ratio is targeted again, more schools will be forced to drop subjects that are vital to economic recovery," he warned.