The average class size in primary schools fell to its lowest level in 20 years, while the number of students in overcrowded classrooms also fell sharply last year.
New figures released by the Ministry of Education show that the average class size fell from 24.1 students in 2019/20 to 23.3 in the school year that ended in June.
It is also the largest annual change over the past two decades and the lowest annual figure since 2008.
The latest figures also reveal that only 1 in 7 students in regular primary schools were in overcrowded classrooms during the school year that ended in June.
The proportion of students in classes of 30 or more increased from 17.8pc to 14.3pc in the space of 12 months.
Although 78,320 students were still in classes considered overcrowded, this was a drop of nearly 20,000 from the previous year.
One of the main factors behind the reduction in average class sizes and overcrowded classrooms is the decline in overall enrollment levels in 3,107 regular primary schools from over 7,000 last year.
There has been an even more significant decrease in the pupil-teacher ratio over the past 20 years, from 19.2 in 2000 to 14.5 last year mainly due to the hiring of over 6,000 additional teachers. and nearly 10,000 specialist assistants during the period.
While the number of people attending primary school has increased by 28% since 2000, it is expected to decline over the next 15 years, with Donegal and Clare already registering fewer students than 10 years ago.
The latest figures show that the school with the highest average class size in the country is a gaelscoil north of Dublin – Scoil MobhÃ in Glasnevin.
In the last school year, it had an average of 31.3 students in each of its eight classrooms, although the standard has steadily declined in recent years.
The largest school in the country is St Mary’s Parish Primary School on Dublin Road in Drogheda, Co. Louth, which had a total of 1,100 students in 40 classrooms last year.
In contrast, there was only one student enrolled in Ireland’s smallest school – the Desertserges National School near Enniskeane in West Cork.
The Church of Ireland school had five students the previous year.
Unlike in previous years, no school had a class of 40 or more students in 2020/21, with the most crowded classrooms containing 39 students – which were recorded at St Mary’s National School, Collinstown, Co Westmeath and Scoil RÃ³is at Taylor’s Hill in Galway.
Students in multi-faith schools are more likely to be in crowded classrooms with 69% in classes of 30 or more compared to 54% in Catholic schools.
Education Minister Norma Foley said each point reduction in primary school enrollment requires around 300 additional teachers at an annual cost of â¬ 14.5 million.
She said that a one-point improvement in the nomination threshold in primary schools for the next school year has been introduced, with schools being staffed on the basis of one teacher per 25 students, which is a historically low ratio.
She said any further improvement in staffing rates would be seen in the context of the annual budget process.
Schools in Kildare had the largest average class size at 24.7 last year, while schools in Mayo had the smallest at 20.9.
The figures show that DEIS schools, which are located in disadvantaged areas, have smaller class sizes on average with 20.4 pupils compared to non-DEIS schools where the average is 24.1.
There is no legal limit on the size of general classes, although a 1990 circular issued by the Department of Education stated that “a proper learning experience is difficult to achieve when classes are composed mainly four-year-old children over 25 â.
Over the past decade, there has been a net reduction of 52 schools with over 119 Catholic schools and nine Church of Ireland schools closed, while 74 new multi-faith schools have opened during the same period.
Catholic schools still represent 89% of all primary schools in the Republic, although the 25 new schools opened in the past five years are multi-faith.
Fewer than 2,000 students repeated a grade in primary school last year – up from 6,950 in 2020 – with a large majority remaining in junior or senior grades.