Fears over class sizes looms large at meeting

Donal Nolan

MASSIVE cuts to education feared as part of the looming budget will prove 'disastrous' for primary education in Kerry with an explosion in class sizes here, teachers and parents have warned.

Over 300 set out their strident opposition to the proposed cuts in education at a meeting in The Brandon Hotel, Tralee on Monday night convened by a number of organisations working in the sector.

It is feared the cuts will lead to an explosion in class sizes and hamper the quality of education of all children.

Many pupils here are already learning in 'supersize' classes of 30 pupils and more; with one parent at the meeting explaining that her son is currently in a senior infants class of 39 pupils.

The meeting heard that Education Minister Ruairí Quinn's plans to increase the pupil/teacher ratio will have a disastrous affect on the quality of Kerry pupils' education with the loss of teachers in many schools.

Kerry will suffer disproportionately hard under this as a county with a large number of small, rural schools, the meeting heard.

Minister Quinn is reportedly seeking to slash up to €100 million from his department next year by targeting teacher wages through an increase in the ratio.

INTO National President Brendan O'Sullivan told teachers and parents at Monday's meeting in the Brandon Hotel that the cuts will leave principals in 'an impossible situation'.

He set out a number of examples to highlight the drastic affect the reported cuts will have:

"Take an eight-teacher school of 207 pupils. If the schedule is increased the new figure will see 209 pupils required to retain the eight teachers. That's one less teacher and a whole class will have to be redistributed across other classes...it's an impossible situation!"

"People say 'why don't you get more pupils?' You can't simply buy pupils on the internet."

He presented research carried out by the US Department of Education in 1999 showing the detrimental affect of large class sizes on pupils' education.

"Nobody is saying the quality of education doesn't count, of course it counts. But a quality teacher will be performing very different functions in a class of 30 or more and a class of 20. One function is crowd control and the other is teaching the curriculum. If I have thirty plus pupils I simply can't get around to all of them to see their stregths and weaknesses," he said.

Parent Máiréad O'Carroll said her son is currently in a senior infant class of 39 pupils at an unnamed school she did not name. It was one of the most glaring examples of existing overcrowding heard on the night.

"What they are doing now is going to have a huge detrimental affect in ten years' time," Ms O'Carroll said. "We're going to struggle to get the students to do science, this, that, and everything else we're told will be needed. My plea is don't think in the short-term, but in the long-term damage that will be done."


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