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Dublin: 4°C Wednesday 8 December 2021

Primary pupils in Kerry are the most likely to be in an overcrowded classroom

More than a fifth of registered primary pupils in the recent school year were in overcrowded classes.

Google maps classrooms Source: Google Maps/classrooms

ALMOST ONE IN five students in primary school last year were in classes of 30 or more, with six schools recorded as having classrooms with 40 or more pupils.

An analysis of data published by the Department of Education on over 22,700 mainstream classes in over 3,100 primary schools across the Republic show 19.8% of all pupils are in classes which could be considered overcrowded.

It reveals that 45% of all primary schools had at least one class room of 30 pupils or more in the 2018/19 school year.

According to the OECD the average class size in most developed countries is 21.

There is no statutory limit on the size of general classes, although a Department of Education circular in 1990 stated that “appropriate learning experience is difficult to achieve when classes consisting entirely of mainly four-year-old children exceeds 25”.

Despite large numbers of new teachers being recruited in recent years, many schools continue to experience difficulty in keeping class sizes at recommended levels.

The record class size in primary education last year was 42 pupils which was recorded in three schools – Scoil Náisiúta Róis, Taylor’s Hill, Galway; Scoil Naomh Colmcille, Carndonagh, Co Donegal and Bunscoil Phádraig Naofa, Tuam, Co Galway.

The school with the highest average class size in the country was Scoil Mobhi in Glasnevin, Dublin where last year it had an average of 31.9 pupils in each of its eight classrooms.

shutterstock_629765606 Source: Shutterstock/DGLimages

Overall, more than 109,600 out of 553,319 registered primary pupils in the recent school year were in overcrowded classes.

Young schoolchildren in Kerry were most likely to be in overcrowded classrooms with almost a quarter of all pupils in the county in classes of 30 or more.

Other counties with above-average levels of pupils in very large classes were Limerick, Westmeath, Kilkenny and Carlow.

In contrast, only 16% of pupils in Cavan and Roscommon were in overcrowded classes.

The figures show the number of students in classes of 25 or more across the country is over 347,500 – approximately 63% of the total.

The data reveals that pupils in schools across most counties in Leinster as well as Waterford are more likely to be in classes of 25 or more than pupils from other parts of the country.

On the bright side

However, the Department of Education figures also highlight how average class sizes nationally have been falling continuously since 2015/16 when they stood at 25.4 pupils per class.

They decreased further in the recent school year to 24.3 – down from 24.5 in 2017/18 – but are still relatively high by international standards. It reached its lowest point in 2008 at 23.8.

The average class size decreased by at least one pupil per teacher in 925 schools last year but increased by at least one pupil per teacher in 753 schools.

The Minister for Education, Joe McHugh, said Budget 2019 would allow for the numbers employed in schools to reach their highest ever level.

McHugh said it was the third year of major investment in education with the department’s budget increasing by 6.7% or €674m on 2018.

“Over 1,300 additional posts will be funded including more than 370 teaching posts to cater for growth in student population and additional special classes,” said McHugh.

The cost of more teachers

The Department of Education said the staffing schedule for the current school year at primary level was operating on a general average of 26 pupils for every teacher.

“The staffing schedule operates in a clear and transparent manner and treats all similar types of schools equally irrespective of location,” said a spokesperson.

He added that the guidance issued to schools was to keep the number of pupils in any class “as low as possible”.

It is estimated that lowering the primary staffing level by one student per teacher would cost approximately €135m per annum.

While welcoming a reduction in class sizes in recent years the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation said they remained “far too high” and called for the trend to be maintained until Irish levels reach the EU average class size of 20.

“With only 11% of Irish children learning in a call of fewer than 20 students – the EU average – it’s clear they are being short changed,” said an INTO spokesperson

Smaller classes support inclusion and diversity of children and allow for more individual attention.

The INTO said falling numbers due to attend primary schools over coming years presented “an ideal opportunity” to further lower class sizes “if we retain the number of teachers at the present level”.

About the author:

Seán McCárthaigh

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