Monday 19 February 2018

Class sizes are now biggest in commuter belt areas

In sharp contrast to the rise in enrolments across all levels, the education budget has fallen
In sharp contrast to the rise in enrolments across all levels, the education budget has fallen
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

CHILDREN in the Dublin commuter belt and those in other areas of population growth are squeezed into the most crowded classrooms in the country.

Primary school class sizes remained stable in the past year, despite an extra 10,000 enrolments last September, according to figures.

But as primary enrolments grow, so too does the problem of 'supersize' classes, particularly in areas where many young families settled during the construction boom.

More than 124,363 pupils – almost one-in-four of those in mainstream classes – are in classes of 30 or more. That is up from 121,353 in 2012/13 and 112,821 in 2011/12.

According to data from the Department of Education, the average primary school class size across 31 local authority areas in the past year remained relatively unchanged at 24.8.

However, that masks variations between counties, with the biggest classes in a belt circling the capital city.

Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown has the biggest average class sizes at 26.3, followed by Meath and Fingal at 26.1, Kildare at 25.7 and Wicklow at 25.4.

Other areas where average class sizes are above 25 are Louth, Waterford city, Waterford County and Limerick County.

Meanwhile, the population drain, particularly in some western counties, is evident in below average class sizes, the lowest of all, Roscommon, at 21.9.

A separate and more detailed breakdown of the figures shows how many pupils, in each area, are in classes of different size categories: 0-19 pupils, 20-29 pupils and 30 pupils or more.

Not surprisingly, Dun Laoghaire also tops this league, with 31.4pc, or almost one in three pupils, in classes of 30 or more, followed by Wicklow at 31.3pc, Limerick County at 30.6pc and Meath at 30pc.

For some years, primary schools have seen an increase in enrolments as a result of the baby boom that has continued since the late 1990s.

Before the economic crash, there was a downward trend in class sizes as extra teachers were pumped into the system.

Although there has been no change to the standard pupil-teacher ratio at primary level in recent years, schools have lost support teachers.

Today's figures show that the pupil-teacher ratio – the overall number of pupils divided by the overall number of teachers – has fallen slightly at primary level, from 16.4 to 16.3.

Class size is a different measure and reflects the day-to-day reality in classrooms.

The additional 9,895 primary school enrolments last year, brought numbers to 528,562 in mainstream schools, with a further 7,755 in special schools.

Enrolments at second-level rose by 4,331 to 333,175, and the pupil teacher ratio has remained constant at 13.9

Overall teacher numbers rose by 1,000 to cope with the increase in pupil numbers.

Education Minister Ruairi Quinn said that despite the difficult financial circumstances, "we prioritised education so that the number of teachers we have in the system has also grown in order to protect pupil teacher ratios".

There are now 3,286 primary schools, down seven on 2012/13, including 1,351 with fewer than 100 pupils, with 600 having fewer than 50. At second level, there are 723 schools, up two on last year.

The total number of full-time students in education institutions funded by the Department of Education and Skills – from primary to third level – is now at its highest level yet, at more than one million.

Irish Independent

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