Commuter-belt pupils face most crowded classrooms
ALMOST one-in-three school pupils in some parts of the country is now in a "supersize" classroom of more than 30 children.
The children of commuter-belt families are suffering the most overcrowded classrooms, new figures confirm.
As primary-school enrolments rise, average classes are getting bigger almost everywhere throughout the country, with a spike in the number of pupils in classes of 30 or more.
But some communities are being hit much harder than others, according to the latest figures from the Department of Education.
Wicklow tops the table with 31.5pc of children in classes of 30 or more, slightly ahead of Limerick county at 30.6pc.
This means that almost one-in- three pupils in those areas is being taught in so-called "supersize" classes.
Children living in areas of rapid population growth on the outskirts of Dublin, and neighbouring counties, are also among the worst affected.
There is also a big squeeze in classrooms in Cork county and Waterford county, parts of which experienced a population boom in the past decade.
In contrast, class sizes are generally stable, or falling, in many rural areas and in cities, reflecting trends in population.
The average class size rose to 24.7 in 2012-13, up from 24.5 the previous year. It compares with an EU average of 20.
Click on your area for details of class sizes
Red icon: more than 30pc of pupils in classes of 30 or more
Yellow: more than 20pc of pupils in classes of 30 or more
Green - less than 20pc of pupils in classes of 30 or more
However, the slight increase in the national average masks a shocking jump in the number of pupils in classes of 30 or more, the precise impact of which depends on where a family lives.
Primary pupils in Wicklow and Limerick counties are almost twice as likely to be squeezed into a class of 30 or more, when compared with those in the largely rural Cavan and Roscommon, where the rate is 16.2 pc.
However, teachers in small rural schools may be dealing with the complexity of more than one class in each classroom.
At the other end of the scale, the department's figures also show a drop in the number of smaller classes in schools.
In Dublin Fingal, only 2.6pc of pupils are in classes of under 20, down from 3pc a year previously. This compares with 21.4pc in Roscommon.
Overall, 13 areas stand out as having the most crowded classrooms – a combination of the highest proportion of children in classes of 30 or more and the lowest proportion of pupils in classes of fewer than 20.
They are: Dun Laoghaire/ Rathdown, South Dublin, Fingal, Kildare, Meath , Wicklow, Wexford, Laois, Kilkenny, Carlow, Waterford county, Cork county and Limerick county.
The 70,000 junior infants starting in primary schools this week have pushed enrolments to their highest levels for more than 20 years – and about 10,000 more than last September.
As more children pour into schools, the number in classes of 30 or more has risen by 8,000 since 2011/12 to over 121,000 in 2012/13. It is up from 97,000 in 2010/11.
That amounts to an overall average of 23.5 of primary pupils – almost one in four or – in "supersize" classes, up from 22.3pc the previous year, as a result of growing enrolments and cuts in staffing in small primary schools.
At the same time, the proportion of pupils in classes of fewer than 20 has dropped to 10.6pc, from 11.9pc in 2011/12.
Faced with rising enrolments, at both primary and second-level, Education Minister Ruairi Quinn has made a commitment to provide a school place for every child and this term has seen the opening of seven new primary schools to serve growing populations.
But while schools are being built to accommodate numbers, classrooms are getting more crowded.
The Irish National Teachers Organisation (INTO) said that at the same time as class sizes were rising, non-class teachers were being cut from the system.
"More and more responsibility is being put on the class teacher to meet the needs of children with little English, special needs or disadvantaged backgrounds," said INTO general secretary Sheila Nunan.
According to the INTO, smaller classes are most important when children are young.
By Katherine Donnelly Education Editor