THE number of children in primary classes of 30 pupils or more rose by 15% last year.
Almost 22% of the 490,000 children attending the country’s 3,165 mainstream primary schools, up from 19% of pupils a year earlier, were in classes of that size. The actual number is just under 107,000, compared to less than 93,000 when the figures were last compiled in September 2008, although the overall primary school population is up just 1.5%.
The data released by the Department of Education reflects changes to school staffing last autumn which meant a classroom teacher can only be appointed for every 28 children, instead of every 27 the previous year.
“The increase in overcrowded classes, already the second highest in the EU, clearly shows that young children are paying the price of economic mismanagement,” said INTO general secretary Sheila Nunan.
The Government has insisted since the cutbacks were announced that the quality of teacher is more important than the number of children in each class.
There were six schools which had a class of between 40 and 44 pupils last year but less than one in seven were being taught in classes of 19 or fewer – a class size the 2002 Programme for Government promised for every child under the age of nine.
Fine Gael education spokesman Fergus O’Dowd said almost 7,900 pupils were in classes of 35 or more, with dramatic cuts to language support and special needs resources.
Latest figures from the HSE show that more than€64 million was paid to 133,000 families under the Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance by the end of last week. The number of applications yet to be processed is down from more than 27,000 a week earlier to 17,202 but forms are still taking up to 20 days to be processed in Galway, Mayo and Roscommon, where 5,000 claims were still outstanding.
Almost 6,500 applications were received nationally last week and 30,000 more claims are expected up to the September 30 closing date.
Meanwhile, the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children revealed referrals to its TeenFocus support services that helps young people with stressful situations, such as moving to second-level education or being bullied, look set to top those made last year. Just over 500 referrals were made last year but 317 were received in the first six months of 2010.
The ISPCC said 119 families are on waiting lists, highlights the existence of clear gaps in preventative services for children.
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