THE Secretary General of the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation has claimed this week that primary schools in Donegal are among the most overcrowded in the country.
Nearly 90 per cent of primary pupils in Donegal are in classes greater than the EU average of 20. More than 16,200 pupils in Donegal schools are in classes of twenty or more. Over 4,000 are in “supersized” classes of thirty or more children. Latest figures show that: 21.5 per cent of primary pupils are in classes of 30 or more; 65.2 per cent of pupils are in classes of 20 to 29 pupils; 13.3 per cent of pupils are in classes under 20.
The INTO said the figures showed the reality on the ground in schools as Irish primary schools re-open for a new school year. The union said large classes are a result of increasing school numbers and government cutbacks on the ground in schools.
The general secretary of the INTO, Sheila Nunan described the findings as a major challenge for the new Minister for Education and Skills, Jan O Sullivan. Ms Nunan said Irish class sizes were now some of the highest in the EU. She called on the new Minister not to increase class sizes in the budget and to prepare a plan to reduce class sizes in Irish primary schools over the next number of years.
“Irish class sizes are back to where they were ten years ago and getting worse. In 2004, average class size in Ireland was 25 the same as it is today. One hundred and twenty five thousand primary school children today are in classes of thirty pupils or more,” said Ms Nunan.
She said the primary school classroom is the frontline of the education service. “It is where most children spend the majority of their time,” said Ms. Nunan. Large class sizes are affecting over half a million pupils and their families.”
At the same time as class sizes are rising the pupil teacher ratio is worsening as non-class teachers are cut from the system. More and more responsibility is being put on the class teacher to meet the needs of children with little English, special needs or disadvantaged backgrounds.
“The new Minister needs to spell out how she intends to staff schools for the coming years so that teachers can meet the needs of all pupils.”