Classroom crisis

Over eighty per cent of primary school pupils in Donegal are in classrooms bigger than the EU average.

Over eighty per cent of primary school pupils in Donegal are in classrooms bigger than the EU average.

The Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) says primary schools here have some of the most the most crowded classrooms in the country. New figures reveal that 83 per cent of pupils in Donegal schools are in classes of twenty or more. Nearly a fifth, 18.5 per cent, are in classes of more than thirty children. Irish classrooms are the second most overcrowded in Europe and twenty percent higher than the EU average, the union says.

The INTO says the figures are shocking and show that the government is not tackling the problem of overcrowded classes. The problem is getting worse particularly, in urban areas and commuter counties, the union says.

The union has pointed to comments education minister Ruairí Quinn made on the issue while in opposition. Speaking in Dail Eireann in October 2008, he described the last government’s attempt to increase class sizes as “an attack upon our children, the most vulnerable in our society”.

“Think of it. It pushes many shy, insecure young four year old children into classes with more than 30 other children,” he said. “It makes it impossible for under-resourced primary school teachers to cherish all the children equally.”

Chair of the Letterkenny branch of the INTO, Anne McGowan, described the figures as shocking and said they reflect the experiences of teachers around the county. “I am staggered when you see them written down,” she said. Mrs. McGowan, who is deputy principal of Scoil Choilmcille in Letterkenny, said: “I know classes are getting bigger. I know with the number of classes lined up in the yard, that the number of lines are becoming fewer and the number of children is growing.”

She said large classes makes it more difficult to give children the individual attention they need and affects the ability of teachers to use modern teaching techniques. She said the aim of government should be to get class sizes down below 20 which is international best practice.

“A few years ago the government said it would reduce class sizes and we were all expecting wonderful things at that time. It really is the children who are going suffer. When classes are smaller, there is more teaching time and more and more time for children.

The general secretary of the INTO, Sheila Nunan said the figures are “a wake-up call” for the parents of 19,000 primary school pupils in the county in advance of the next budget. “When class numbers are reasonable modern teaching methods are possible and there is more teacher time for children. If we want to improve education outcomes for children the last thing that should be done is increase class sizes.”

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