Thursday 27 October 2016

Editorial: We must prioritise smaller size classes

Published 06/04/2015 | 02:30

The shocking finding has emerged after Department of Education-backed study among third class pupils in 22 primary schools, during the 2013/14 academic year.
The shocking finding has emerged after Department of Education-backed study among third class pupils in 22 primary schools, during the 2013/14 academic year.

Adults with even the sketchiest of schooldays memories will recall what happened in over-crowded classrooms where teachers were put to the pin of their collars to maintain order, let alone impart knowledge.

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Those of us with better memories will also recall the real losers: the less able academically, those from poorer families without compensatory home back-up, and those with real learning difficulties. For these less fortunate people, the starting gate to a life of any real quality too often remained shut. They paid a life-long price for deficient primary schooling.

The extent of the ongoing problem of overcrowded classes is evident today in an Irish Independent breakdown of enrolments by local authority area, based on Department of Education data. These latest figures will undoubtedly feature in a debate at the Irish National Teachers Organisation annual conference which also starts today.

One in four of our primary school pupils is in a class of over 30 pupils. The average is 25 per class, the highest in the 19-nation eurozone, and compares with a worldwide average of 21 pupils per class.

Let us recall that a decade ago, education authorities were talking about classes of maximum 20 pupils for children under nine. The issue was neglected in the past eight years as all State services struggled.

Education Minister Jan O'Sullivan is well aware of the problem but there are many other calls on still-scarce resources. Chief of these is a population bulge placing sustained demands on our schools.

An additional 13,000 pupils are expected across both primary and post-primary next September, and about 1,500 teachers will be needed for those, as well as over 200 Special Needs Assistants. These latest enrolment figures are based on returns made by schools last September.

They show that some 126,000 primary pupils are in classes of 30-plus, including almost 10,000 in classes of between 35-39, with one class with 40 pupils. At the other end of the scale, 53,337 are in a class with 19 or fewer pupils. There is little scope for argument on these figures. Reducing our pupil-teacher ratio is now the priority.


We need Easter 2016 to be inclusive of all

Often enough you can derive more enjoyment from a low-key gathering than you get from the bigger, much heralded event. Lower expectations and good luck can combine to deliver surprise.

There was a sense of that yesterday in the quiet dignity and sense of occasion at the 99th Easter Rising commemorations outside the GPO in Dublin. The attendance was up and there is growing evidence of increased public interest in many of the events in the country's decade of commemorations.

Marking Easter 2016 is a much bigger and much trickier undertaking, as we have seen already. But we have also had events which fittingly marked the 1913 Lockout and the passage of the Home Rule Act.

Scarcely a family in Ireland avoided being touched by the Great War. All these events formed the backdrop for the 1916 Rising and subsequent events. Easter 1916 is also the centrepiece, both figuratively and in time, of that pivotal decade in Irish history.

So, by sustaining a spirit of inclusiveness and reconciliation, we can have a meaningful and enriching Easter 2016 commemoration.

Irish Independent

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