Thursday 23 May 2019

Bruton's reforms 'failing' as 120,000 children still in 'super-sized' classes

Education Minister Richard Bruton. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Education Minister Richard Bruton. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

Almost 120,000 primary school pupils are still in classes of 30 or more.

A child's chance of avoiding a "super-size" class comes down to a postcode lottery.

On average, almost one-in-four, 22pc, primary pupils is in classes of 30-plus, but it varies from as high of 28pc in Co Limerick to 11.5pc in Waterford city.

After Limerick, the worst hit areas are Meath, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, Co Cork, Co Waterford, Monaghan and Wexford.

Class sizes are also above the national average in Leitrim, Wicklow, Galway, Kerry, Laois, Longford, Louth, Tipperary (north), and Dublin Fingal.

Recently published Department of Education figures provide a school-by-school breakdown of class size in the 2016/2017 year.

They show that the biggest classes tend to be in Dublin's outer suburbs and extended commuter belt and provincial towns that have seen huge population growth over the past decade.

The 2016/17 year saw the first improvement in class sizes for many years, as a result of a Budget 2016 decision to recruit extra teachers for this purpose last September.

Nationally, the proportion of pupils in classes of 30-plus has reduced from 24pc to 22pc, but there remains 118,326 children in large classes.

The Government has committed to a further improvement, and the issue is covered in the 'confidence and supply' agreement with Fianna Fáil.

But there has been no change in Budget 2017 and, as discussions on the Budget 2018 get under way, it is not known what priority the matter is receiving.


A spokesman for Education Minister Richard Bruton confirmed it was the "minister's intention to make further improvements to class sizes over the life of the Government".

However, he added that the minister "recognises there are needs across the system which have to be balanced in the decisions made in each Budget".

The spokesman said schools are also requested, where possible, to use their autonomy under the staffing schedule to implement smaller class sizes for junior classes.

Fianna Fáil education spokesman Thomas Byrne said reducing oversized classes at primary level, especially for under-nines, was a key demand of the party in the 'confidence and supply' agreement and "we will be pushing the Government to make good on this commitment in the Budget."

He said it was "extraordinary that the Action Plan on Education is silent on the impact of overcrowded classrooms on children's education".

The Irish National Teachers' Organisation (INTO) said the number of children in 'super-sized' classes in Ireland remained unacceptably high.

INTO general secretary Sheila Nunan accused the Government of failing in its commitments to reduce class sizes.

"Irish primary schools have the second biggest classes in the EU. As long as that is the case, the minister's ambition for education system will fail.

"Modern teaching is becoming impossible in overcrowded classes and learning is compromised.

"How can one teacher with 30-plus pupils hear each one read and keep them on task with written work in two languages, check maths progress and tackle bullying," she said.

Ms Nunan said if the minister wanted reforms such as coding and more technology then smaller classes had to be the priority. "If not, all the action plans in the world are worthless," she added.

Irish Independent

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