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Cuts will force schools to drop Leaving Cert subjects

STUDENTS in some schools are facing the loss of important Leaving Certificate subjects such as physics and chemistry next autumn as education cuts bite deeper.

Two in three schools are considering dropping one or more subjects for fifth and sixth years after the Budget slashed teaching hours from next September.

Other damaging effects may include reduced teaching time for core subjects such as English, maths and Irish for Junior Cert classes in some schools.

Schools may also opt to merge fifth and sixth years for some subjects, or group higher, ordinary and foundation level students into one class,

These are among the findings of a survey conducted for the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) .

Principals in 151 of the 520 schools in which the ASTI has members participated in the survey by market research company Milward Browne Lansdowne. According to the ASTI, after three years of austerity budgets, schools have already introduced cuts such as reduced subject choice and amalgamation of classes.

The last Budget cut the extra hours allocation that schools get to provide guidance counselling, resulting in the loss of 700 posts, or an average loss of 0.8 teachers in each school, next September.

Schools will have to provide guidance counselling out of their general allocation of teaching hours, and decide how to prioritise the time previously given exclusively to guidance counselling.

The Leaving Cert subjects most likely to be dropped in September are accounting, chemistry, physics, and economics.

Almost half of schools have already dropped one or more subjects at Leaving Cert level as a result of cuts since 2009, with accountancy, economics and physics topping the list.

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Since 2009, second-level schools have lost an average of 1.6 full-time teaching posts, while pupil numbers increased by almost 15,000 in the same period.

ASTI general secretary Pat King said it was most concerned that subjects such as physics and chemistry were at risk in some schools and that maths classes were becoming more overcrowded.

"Parents need to know that the subject choices that they and their children are taking for granted may not be available very soon and that this will have an impact on young people's entry to third-level courses and on career choice.

"The Government should be very concerned that the very subjects that are vital to our economic recovery are amongst those most at risk. There can be no smart economy if these subjects don't thrive."

He also warned that most second-level students would have less access to one-to-one counselling in their schools from September.

"The one big criticism of guidance provision in our second-level schools is that there is not enough of it, and not enough one-to-one".

A Department of Education spokesperson said that where schools were contemplating dropping a subject, they should consider shared arrangements with neighbouring schools, where this is feasible. The ASTI says this is often not feasible.

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