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Saturday 22 September 2018

Spending on education has not kept up with rising number of students - OECD

Stock photo: Wavebreakmedia/Getty Images
Stock photo: Wavebreakmedia/Getty Images
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

Spending on education in Ireland has not kept up with the rising number of students, according to the international think-tank, the OECD.

Most countries in the developed world are spending more per student than at the start of the financial crisis, but Ireland is one of the small number that is not.

Spending per student in Ireland from primary to third-level was only around the OECD average in 2015. It was much less for early childhood education.

Meanwhile Irish teachers are generally paid much more than the OECD average, according to the report.

The figures are contained in the annual OECD Education at a Glance, which compares education systems in more than 40 countries, using a range of different measures including spending, teacher salaries, and class size and student achievement.

To even out differences and allow for real comparisons between countries, the OECD converts expenditure and salary figures into purchasing power.

The report bases its spending comparisons on 2015 figures and, while there has been some improvement in Ireland since then, there would be no dramatic change to its relative position.

Between 2010 and 2015, spending per student at primary and post-primary levels dropped by an average 22pc, while at third-level the fall was 29pc. While spending was being cut the number of students was also rising

The 2015 spend per student works out at about €7,128 at primary level, €8,696 at post-primary level and €8,383 at third-level.

In Ireland, teacher starting salaries of around the equivalent of €29,200, compared with an international average of €27,444-€29,700..

After 15 years experience, an Irish teacher’s salary of the equivalent of more than €51,000 compared with an OECD average of €38,000-€41,200.  The salary comparisons are based on figures for 2017.

And, although Irish teachers spend more time in the classroom, their overall contract is for far less than half the international average.

Primary teachers in Ireland spend 910 hours a year in the classroom, well ahead of the international average of 778 but, on average, primary teachers elsewhere are contracted for a total of about 1,630 hours, to include non-teaching duties.

At second level, teachers in Ireland spend 722 hours a year in the classroom, compared with 655-701 internationally, but less than half the 1,640 hours for which the average OECD counterpart is contracted.

The Irish National Teachers Organisation (INTO)  hit out at the fact that, in Ireland, the lowest level of investment remains in the primary education system.

INTO General Secretary Sheila Nunan said the report “confirms what we already know - Irish primary school education is underfunded, understaffed and undervalued by the Irish Government. Class sizes remain five pupils above the EU average, our primary school teachers more hours than those in other countries and funding has failed to keep pace with these changes in the last number of years.”

“Irish primary education remains in dire need of a budget boost and every member of the INTO will be making the case to politicians in the run up to Budget 2019.”

Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) president Breda Lynch, described the findings on spending as “alarming”.

Ms Lynch said the OECD previously warned that Ireland needed to up its game in terms of investment in education.

“Despite improved economic circumstances, we are languishing at the bottom when investment relative to national wealth is measured. What does this say about the value we place on our children and young people?”

On the issue of teachers’ hours, she pointed to a RED C survey, commissioned by the ASTI, which found that second-level teachers spent more than 20 hours per week on non-teaching work.

Ms Lynch noted a focus in this year’s report on awareness of environmental issues amongst 15 year olds, and the finding that Irish teenagers scored higher than the OECD average across all environmental awareness areas of science proficiency.

Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) president Seamus Lahart said failure to invest in education is an attack on the most vulnerable.

He said the report  made clear  that it was those from disadvantaged backgrounds who suffered most from flat-lining or declining education budgets.

“The failure of successive Irish governments to invest appropriately in Irish education is a sustained attack on the most vulnerable in communities across the country.

“Investment in education pays huge dividends to society in terms of increased tax and social contributions and to the individual in terms of better life prospects,” he said.

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