Doubts over class size hikes criticised

A  cross section of the crowd in Cooney's Hotel for the INTO meetin. Photo: Declan Gilmore
Primary schoolteachers and parents turned out in force earlier this week to hear of fears over dramatic increases to pupil-teacher ratio numbers.

Primary schoolteachers and parents turned out in force earlier this week to hear of fears over dramatic increases to pupil-teacher ratio numbers.

At present, around two thirds of Longford children attend classrooms of up to 29 pupils, 25 per cent of whom sit in ’supersize’ classes of 30 children or more.

Much of the concern at last Thursday night’s INTO-led meeting in Ballymahon was aimed at reports of a further hike as the Government puts the finishing touches to this month’s Budget.

“The message to local politicians is clear,” said local teacher and INTO organiser Carmel Browne. “The people of Longford want them to prevent even more overcrowded classes in primary schools.” 

Education Minister Ruairi Quinn has, until now, shied away from making significant changes to classroom numbers.

But with a reported €100m still to be found in cuts, teaching unions are bracing themselves for swingeing reductions to frontline services.

“The Minister for Education is threatening to increase primary classes sizes in the budget. This cannot be allowed to happen,” added Ms Browne.

“Unless politicians protect class sizes in the Budget then the county could have some of the largest classes in Europe.”

According to the INTO, Irish class sizes are the second most overcrowded in the EU. Latest figures show that more than 88 per cent per cent of pupils in Co Longford are in classes of 20 or more.

Imposing significant changes to class sizes as they stand is one area Mr Quinn has managed to steer clear from.

The fact it’s even under consideration has unnerved many, including those within Labour who feel Mr Quinn is fast becoming the “fall guy” for what might arise on October 15.

Not that any of those internal rumblings appeared to dampen the clear-cut message that was made inside a thronged Cooney’s Hotel this week.

The primary school classroom is the frontline of the education service,” said Ms Browne. “The Minister needs to spell out how he intends to staff schools for the coming years so that teachers can meet the needs of all pupils.”