It is a ‘screeching disgrace’ and a ‘continuing national embarrassment’ that more than 66,000 primary school students were in classes of 30 or more in the last school year, a teachers’ union has said.
Department for Education figures show 2,120 classes had 30 or more pupils last year, with some in County Monaghan having 39 pupils and others in the southern and western regions having 38.
The data was provided to Sinn Féin education spokesman Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire, who said the quality of education received by “too many of our children is affected by high class sizes”.
“There are countless classrooms that are far too big, in buildings that are too small and not fit for purpose. I urge the Minister to address this issue urgently,” he said, adding that measures should be announced in the budget.
He said there were 208 classes with 30 or more pupils in the Cork County Council area and other areas with high numbers including South Dublin County Council (142), County Council from Galway (108), Meath (113) and Limerick (106).
“These numbers are shocking,” he said. “In 2021 there were classes with up to 37 pupils in Louth, Mayo, Meath, Offaly and Wexford. Classes of 38 pupils at Cork County Council, Limerick, Galway City Council and Laois. Classes of 39 students in Monaghan. This is unacceptable.”
Cork South-Central TD said Sinn Féin would end classes with more than 30 children and “never allow them to return”.
The pupil-teacher ratio was expected to reach an all-time low of 25:1 in the last school year, although this is still far from the EU average of 20:1 and around 21:1 in member states of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
Irish National Teachers’ Organization general secretary John Boyle said it was “a crying shame” that 66,104 pupils were expected to face in 2,120 Irish primary classes containing 30 or more pupils.
“This is simply unacceptable and unless addressed quickly, it will remain a major obstacle to the necessary post-pandemic recovery in primary education,” he said. “It is now more than 20 years since the then Minister of Education, now An Taoiseach Micheál Martin, declared that “there was no place in a modern education system for overcrowded classrooms “. Yet in 2022, only one in six primary school pupils have the chance to learn in a class below the European average of 20.”
Mr Boyle said measures to reduce class sizes should be announced in the budget to end “this continuing national embarrassment and provide equal opportunities for Irish children with their European counterparts”.