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Sinead Ryan: Yet again, children not adults to pay for school budget cuts

IN tackling the necessary budget cuts for schools, the Government has opted, in time-honoured fashion, to hit children rather than teachers.

This is because it's easier and lazier and can be done quickly -- by September if they get a move on.

Increasing class sizes, as it is proposing, means that they have to take on 1,100 fewer teachers -- a result for the economists.

There'll be moaning about that from unions and the like, but far less than if they took a direct swipe to teachers' pay and kept them all on.

So, there you have it. The losers? Not a grown-up in sight -- it's children all the way.


We now have, once again, the second highest average primary school class sizes in Europe, 106,000 kids languish in classes of 30 plus while a particularly unlucky 8,000 have more than 35 in class with them.

The overcrowding is worst in counties where people were forced to buy houses by the last Government because they couldn't afford them anywhere else -- around the Dublin commuter belt.

On one hand, increasing class sizes is not the specific problem. A well-trained, professional and experienced teacher is well able for a class of 30. Exhausted, but able. Adding another one or two to the pot isn't the issue. The real problem arises when her other supports are taken too.

In that class, there will be a small (but rising) number of children who need special help. They are dyslexic or have some other learning difficulty; they are disruptive because of home elements or a medical condition or they are simply not bright.

Up to now a teacher might have relied on one of two things: an SNA -- special needs' assistant -- specifically for those children or a trainee teacher who, God love her, is doing her internship and can at least run around the class handing out pages, making sure kids get to the toilet, minding those who can't read properly etc, which allows the teacher to get on with her job for everyone else.

The coincident reduction in those supports along with the increase in class sizes is the straw which will break the camel's back. The teacher will be thrust back into the 80/20 rule. She will end up, of necessity, spending most of her time dealing with the recalcitrant or timid underachievers and hope that the average to good kids can float along. Or hope that the average parent has time on their hands to pick up the slack and help out more with reading, maths and homework.


Now, she will not do this deliberately, or in a fit of defiance.

It is simply a coping strategy.

It's estimated that the one point increase in class size will save about €75m. That's less than 0.1pc of the bailout money we borrowed for the banks, so it's not going to change the price of cocoa in that regard, really.

What it will do, however, is shore up problems for the future when all children, of ability and not, will end up with fewer teaching hours, being effectively told to sink or swim and hang on to the sides if they think they're going under.

It will mean that teachers end up even more frustrated and worn out; Principals will be juggling with absences to a far greater extent, unions will be moaning, and parents will be struggling to get any face-time with their child's teacher, even if there are problems they need to iron out.


The Government will not ask itself if it's worth it in the long run, because Governments never ask stuff about the long run (the longest run they do is to the next election).

They will instead ask themselves if it will get through politically.

And because children don't have a vote, the answer is a resounding yes.