Sunday 18 August 2019

Primary pupil numbers fall in the west as pressure for places in capital rises

Population flight to urban areas threatens viability of smaller schools

Painting a picture: Enrolments rose in all of the four Dublin areas at primary level as the figures show the growing divide of where families are settling. Stock picture
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

Pupil numbers in primary schools in several rural counties have fallen this year while pressure for places is piling up in the Greater Dublin Area.

The growing divide in where young families are settling comes into sharp focus in a Department of Education analysis of year-on-year changes in primary and post-primary enrolments, broken down by 31 local authority/administrative areas.

When account is taken of both sectors, as well as the Dublin region, the strongest growth in enrolments shows up mainly around Cork, Limerick and Galway, all university cities, with associated high concentrations of industry and business.

If the trend continues, it threatens the viability of more rural primary schools along the Atlantic corridor, while at the same time the school building programme is playing catch-up on the burgeoning populations elsewhere.

Already, the population flight from rural Ireland has seen a 10pc decline in the number of small primary schools over the past decade.

The urban-rural gap raises wider questions about the effectiveness of Government policies for regional and rural development.

It was previously reported that between September 2017 and September 2018, primary pupil numbers grew by 0.8pc nationally, with a 1.5pc increase at post-primary.

But the department's latest bulletin illustrates the uneven nature of year-on-year change, particularly at primary level, with falling enrolments in six counties or administrative areas, predominantly on the western seaboard, while Leitrim was static.

The biggest decline was in Co Clare, down 80 pupils - from 13,682 to 13,602 - followed by Kerry (-37), Mayo (-29), Donegal (-27). There was also a dip in Carlow (-26) and Cork city (-11).

In contrast, enrolments rose in 24 areas, including in all of the four Dublin local authority zones, and particularly in Fingal and Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, each of which had increases of 1.5pc-2pc.


In Fingal, more than four in 10 (41pc) primary schools saw an increase in pupils, while enrolments grew in 37pc of schools in Dublin city.

Fingal also has the largest primary schools, at an average 415 pupils.

Meanwhile, Roscommon, Sligo and Galway city bucked the downward slide west of the Shannon, with an overall rise in pupil numbers running at twice the national figure.

Although Roscommon's 2pc rise was the largest percentage increase, the county has the smallest schools, at an average 86 pupils each.

Cork county, Cavan and Laois also experienced above-average rises in primary enrolments, followed by Galway county, Louth, Meath, Monaghan and Kilkenny.

The picture is somewhat different in the second-level sector, which is now feeling the effects of the baby boom in the first decade of the 21st century.

Post-primary pupil numbers are up everywhere this year except Dublin city and Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, with Fingal and Louth both showing the biggest increases, which at 3.3pc each are more than double the average.

Cork county is also ahead of the average, with a 1.8pc pupil rise.

Other counties with a significant increase in post-primary enrolments were Meath, Kildare, South Dublin, Galway county, Kilkenny and Limerick.

While Dublin city schools suffered an overall drop of 15 pupils, in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, which covers a swathe of south Dublin, the decline was a more remarkable 104, well against the national trend.

There is no obvious reason for this, but it may be linked, in part at least, to a reported flow of students to so-called "grind schools", which are not included in Department of Education statistics.

Irish Independent

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