One in five primary pupils sit in classes of 30 or more
Published 02/09/2010 | 05:00
COMMUTER-belt children are bearing the brunt of a growth spurt in primary school class sizes.
More than one in five primary school children -- almost 107,000 pupils -- are now in classes of 30 or more.
This 21pc figure is up from 19pc a year ago, when 93,000 pupils were in large classes.
The overcrowding is worst in areas within striking distance of Dublin and other cities, which grew rapidly during the boom.
Co Carlow tops the list, with almost one in three of its primary pupils in classes of 30 or more, followed closely by Co Kilkenny.
At the other end of the scale are counties Tipperary, Kerry and Mayo, with the lowest proportion of pupils in big classes.
Class sizes have started to rise again as a result of teacher cutbacks announced by the Government in late 2008.
That decision reversed a policy of gradually reducing class sizes to which the Government had been committed since 2002.
The Irish National Teachers' Organisation (INTO) and the opposition roundly condemned the rise in large classes and said the nation's children were paying for the banks' bailout.
Education Minister Mary Coughlan said last night that notwithstanding the general moratorium on public sector recruitment, additional teachers were being appointed in schools.
However, new appointments only cater for the general growth in pupil numbers and do not allow for a reduction in class sizes. But in a small concession in the Renewed Programme for Government last year, there was a commitment to recruiting 500 extra teachers over the next three years to deal with the worst-affected cases.
INTO general secretary Sheila Nunan said the figures showed the problem of over-crowded classes in primary schools -- already the second highest in the European Union -- was getting worse.
"Billions are being found to keep Anglo Irish Bank on a life-support machine, part of which is clearly coming from primary schools," she said.
Ms Nunan said that almost a decade ago, the government promised to reduce class sizes for the under-nines to less than 20, in line with international best practice.
"According to today's figures, only 14pc of primary pupils are in classes of less than 20 pupils," she said.
She called on the Government to tackle the issue as a matter of priority.
Ms Nunan said there was widespread agreement that younger children did 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."
Fine Gael education spokesman Fergus O'Dowd said that "the cost of bailing out the banks is, without question, being borne by our children".
He added that the latest figures were "a disgrace and show the devastating impact that budget cuts are having on our children".
The situation was "even more shocking when consideration is given to the fact that children are being deprived of teachers and resources so that billions can be ploughed into zombie banks like Anglo", he added.
According to the figures, as many as 8,000 pupils were in classes of 35 or more, which showed that it had "reached crisis point", he said.
Labour Party education spokesman Ruairi Quinn said the figures showed the damage being done by cutbacks.
"Fianna Fail has not only wrecked the economy, they are seriously damaging our education system too," he said.
"We know there is a massive increase in the natural birth rate of children and that the capital budget for school buildings is being underspent.
"The outlook for children starting school this week is very bleak," he added.