Saturday 19 October 2019

Parents withdraw children from school in protest over 41 students in class

5th and 6th class pupils to be taught together in the one classroom

Stock photo: Getty
Stock photo: Getty
Catherine Devine

Catherine Devine

Parents have withdrawn their children from a local national school after it emerged that up to 41 children were to be taught in the one classroom.

Concerned parents protested outside Scoil Bhríde in Menlo, Galway after it was announced that 5th and 6th class students were to be merged and taught by one teacher for the coming school year.

One parent of a 6th class student told Independent.ie that at least 10 parents have pulled their children from the school this week.

"Putting 41 kids into one class with one teacher is not acceptable. It happened two years ago with the same kids when they were combined into a 3rd and 4th class group and it was a disaster. There was so much noise in the class that the kids couldn't concentrate. There wasn't enough room at the desks for the children. They had no room to open their books or work comfortably. There was no room for all their bags and stuff in the classroom. At the time, there was approximately 38 of them but we've gained more children since.

"There was uproar then and we were promised that the core subjects would be done separately and that only lasted a few weeks and then it was back to them all being taught together in the same classroom. We were told it would never happen again and here we are two years later."

The mother added that the school has again offered to teach the year groups separately for the core subjects of English, Maths and Irish for 15 hours a week.

"The 5th class students are going to be in the library with the learning support teacher and the 6th class students will stay in the classroom with the teacher.

"At this point, it's the only compromise we're going to get. We only found out last Wednesday that there wasn't going to be two teachers. It's been really rough. It's my daughter's last year so I really just want her to get through the year well and go to secondary school and be done with this school."

The parent added that she is concerned for the teacher and said that she will be using a microphone in the classroom so that the children can hear her.

"It's a lot of pressure for one teacher and she's a young teacher too."

Another parent who had a child in the 6th class said she withdrew her son from the class on Friday.

"It's chaos. A lot of parents have withdrawn their kids. More will follow suit in the coming days. I withdrew my son because we can't handle this anymore. We've given the school too many chances to make this right."

Independent Councillor for Galway City Central, Mike Cubbard, told Independent.ie said that despite the high number of pupils, the school didn't meet the requirements to get another teacher.

"The Department of Education based their teacher allocation on the numbers from September 2017 and the school was eight pupils short of getting another teacher. There is an appeals process that can be done, but the school failed to do an appeal.

"The school has an appeal now for another teacher but because a number of kids left the school in the last few days, the numbers have dropped so the school is 12 or 13 numbers short, so I can't see them getting another teacher now. The kids are the ones who have been failed. They're only getting 15 hours of separate support in core subjects."

Mr Cubbard added that because some students have left, the class size will now likely be in the high 30s.

"The number will likely be lower than 41 now but there should be no more than 24. You've got 21 kids here preparing for confirmation and secondary school and two different cirriculums. It's not like the children are all the same age. It's not fair on the teacher. She's caught in the middle. She wants to teach the kids but it's very unfair on her."

In recent days, Mr Cubbard said that the school has tried to find a solution to the large class size.

"The school has issued a compromise where they offered 15 hours of support for the three core subjects of Maths, English and Irish for the kids where they will be separated into two groups, 5th and 6th class from 9:30 until 1pm.

"The 5th class kids will go into the library with a learning support teacher and the 6th class kids will stay in the classroom with the teacher. The learning support teacher will act as a 5th class teacher from those hours but she's not allowed to go into a full-time role. There are three resource teachers in the school so there is enough hours between them to make it work."

Mr Cubbard said that after 1pm, the some 41 students will all meet again in the core classroom until 2:30pm when they go home.

"The school also said they will do a full safety audit and the parents accepted that on Friday morning. A small number of parents, possibly four or five, have moved their children to another school, but the majority reluctantly compromised."

A spokesperson for Menlo National School refused to offer an official comment to Independent.ie.

In a statement, the Department of Education said that the configuration of classes and the deployment of classroom teachers is decided by each school.

"School authorities are requested to ensure that the number of pupils in any one class is kept as low as possible. The department also requests school authorities to use their autonomy under the staffing schedule to implement smaller class sizes for junior classes insofar as it is feasible to do so."

The spokesperson said that for the 2018/19 school year, the staffing schedule at primary level will operate on a general average of 26 pupils to every one teacher.

"Along with all other primary schools, Menlo NS has been allocated staffing in line with Department Circular 0010/2018, Staffing Arrangements in Primary Schools for the 2018/19 School Year i.e. A principal plus 7 classroom teaching posts based on an enrolment of 190 pupils. The schools also has 3.32 Special Education Teaching posts."

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