Irish spend more time in bigger classes

IRISH pupils spend more time than those in most other developed countries in classes that are among the biggest in the world.

Irish teachers are the fifth-highest paid after 15 years’ service, when €42,500 is payable. While the equivalent earnings have fallen by almost 10% since public service pay cuts were imposed this year, OECD figures from 2008 show that only teachers in Luxembourg, Switzerland, Germany and South Korea earned more.

Irish teachers earned below the OECD average when relative wealth was taken into account, at around one-quarter more than gross domestic product per capita for both primary and second-level staff. Only children in Australia, Netherlands, Italy and Israel spend more time in class than the 941 hours a year that primary pupils are taught, although the 802 hours a year of compulsory teaching time for second-level students is 100 hours fewer than the OECD average.

In primary schools, the 29% of time devoted to reading and writing (including Irish) is well above average but the 4% given to science education is only half that in other EU countries. One-eighth of Irish pupils’ class time is spent learning maths, the lowest proportion of time devoted to the subject in 21 countries for which a figure is provided. Primary pupils’ exposure to foreign languages is limited to a small number of schools where French, German, Spanish and Italian are taught, compared to an average of 10% of class time for modern languages in 18 other EU countries.

The 2008 data also shows average class size in Irish primary schools of 24.3 pupils – before staffing cuts imposed last autumn – was the eighth highest of more than 30 countries and four more than the number of children in the average EU classroom.

Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) general secretary Sheila Nunan said the country’s low spending on primary education – €7 per pupil compared with €9 for each second-level student and €12 for those in third level – was responsible for large class sizes, inadequate secretarial and caretaking services, non-existent library services and underdeveloped supports for school attendance and psychological services. “Irish primary teachers are among the most productive in the EU, with 152 hours more teaching per year than the EU average and 20% more pupils on average than their EU counterparts, but pupils here get more lesson time than in any EU country, nearly twice as much as in Finland and Germany,” she said.

The Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland general secretary Pat King said it is more vital than ever to protect education in the next budget.


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