'We need a lower pupil-teacher ratio': Calls for Government action on class sizes

One Cork principal said he believes that the Irish average class size is “much higher” than reported.
'We need a lower pupil-teacher ratio': Calls for Government action on class sizes

Cork principal Aaron Wolfe said many secondary schools in Cork “most definitely” have classes with 30-plus pupils.

A CORK TD has called on the Government to tackle “overcrowded” classes in Irish schools.

The comments were made by Cork South Central TD Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire, Sinn Féin’s education spokesman, during the party’s Ard Fheis on Saturday.

Figures published by the Department of Education in August showed that the average class size in Ireland was at its lowest levels in 20 years, down from 24.1 students in 2020 to 23.3 in 2021. However, more than four in five children were still in a class bigger than the EU average.

Earlier this month, the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation welcomed the commitments given in Budget 2022 for reducing class numbers, but said that Ireland was “significantly out of kilter” with the rest of Europe.

Cork principal Aaron Wolfe also believes that the Irish average is “much higher” than reported.

“The average is totally skewed because it takes into account classes like applied maths, that have smaller numbers naturally, and practical subjects like woodwork, that need smaller class sizes,” the Coláiste Éamann Rís principal said. “You could have 30 pupils, if not more, in an English or Irish class.”

Mr Wolfe said many secondary schools in Cork “most definitely” have classes with 30-plus pupils.

“The number of teachers you are allocated is related to the number of pupils but when you work it out, you can be left with very big class sizes. You would easily have 32 in a class,” he said.

Mr Wolfe said the size of classrooms in Ireland is “far smaller” than the EU average, especially in schools with older buildings.

“We’re encouraged to have team teaching for bigger classes but the problem is that classrooms are not big enough,” he said. “You could have two teachers, over 30 students, and maybe an SNA, squeezed into a room and then you have Covid on top of it.”

A survey was sent recently to parents of pupils at Coláiste Éamann Rís, who said they would like to see a decrease in class sizes.

“We need a lower pupil-teacher ratio; 20 in a class would be ideal but it just doesn’t exist,” said Mr Wolfe. “The Government probably couldn’t afford it because it would mean a huge increase in teachers. I just don’t think they could do it and that’s the reality of it.”

Meanwhile, Cork North Central TD Fianna Fáil Pádraig O’Sullivan called for measures to address a substitute teacher “crisis” in schools.

Mr O’Sullivan said he had heard of retired teachers returning to schools to fill gaps and said: “Every effort must be made to address the shortages.”

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