Cuts force schools to drop science subjects
GOVERNMENT plans for the smart economy have been dealt a serious blow as secondary schools are dropping physics and chemistry.
One in five principals say they have already given up physics or are considering dropping the subject, while one in seven have said the same about chemistry.
They blame cutbacks, changes in the pupil-teacher ratio and the impact of the ban on filling middle-management promotion posts. The cuts and other changes were introduced by the Government to save money, but the effects on the schools are revealed in a new survey carried out by the National Association of Principals and Deputy (NAPD).
It covers 210 of the country's 730 voluntary secondary, comprehensive, vocational, community schools and community colleges. Between them, they have 256 fewer teachers in the current academic year than last year. This has resulted in larger classes in most schools.
It also reveals that in the current school year, a total of 307 assistant principals and 214 special duties teachers retired from these 210 schools. It expects a further 302 assistant principals and 103 special duties to retire this year. None of these middle-management posts will be filled under the embargo.
NAPD director Clive Byrne said that principals struggled to cope with the loss of posts and reprioritised middle-management roles. But areas of responsibility that were deemed less of a priority and were dropped included the green schools initiative, school development planning, marketing and PR and health and safety.
"The survey also indicated that, as a result of the cuts, programmes such as Leaving Certificate Applied and Transition Year have been dropped in a minority of schools, and a number of schools replied that, while such programmes hadn't yet been dropped they were under serious threat, a situation which will badly effect vulnerable students," he said.
In addition, 42 principals said they had already dropped physics or were considering it; 31 said the same about chemistry; 21 said it about music; and the same number about design and engineering.
Mr Byrne said: "It's worrying in view of stated government objectives to promote the smart economy, that subjects such as physics, chemistry, design and engineering are regarded as being under threat in many schools and the amalgamation of higher- and ordinary-level maths classes at senior cycle will hardly improve maths results. In fact, the reduction in staffing is creating larger class groupings across the board and weaker students will find it harder to cope."
Meanwhile, pressure is mounting on the Government to soften the ban on filling promotion posts amid fears that many schools will not be able to operate in the autumn if they lose many more assistant principals and special duties teachers.
But Education Minister Batt O'Keeffe said the decision by the unions to prevent members from taking on duties of retiring middle-management post holders would make it more difficult for schools to manage in these difficult times.
He said that the hiring moratorium on filling vacant promotion posts was being applied across the public service generally. Education was being treated more favourably than other areas, such as the civil service, Mr O'Keeffe added.
Schools were still recruiting new teachers to fill vacancies and only promotion posts were being restricted, he said.