ONE-IN-THREE second-level schools have had to mix students of different levels or from different years because of staffing cuts imposed by the Government, according to a teachers’ union.
The funding cuts for schools have also led to almost one-in-10 schools discontinuing or reducing the number of students eligible for the Leaving Certificate Applied programme, an alternative to the traditional exam aimed at teenagers who might not otherwise finish their education and is offered by around half of the state’s 740 second-level schools.
The cuts have also meant that six out of 155 schools surveyed by the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) this month have either dropped or reduced the number of pupils on their transition year programme.
Weaker students could also be affected by the move to mix different levels, particularly in core subjects such as English, maths and Irish.
According to the figures, 54 of the 155 schools that replied to a questionnaire at a series of regional meetings have amalgamated subjects in this way, or by teaching students from two year groups in the one class. In one school, for example, first and second year technical graphics students are being taught together.
The other main impact is on subject choices, particularly for students beginning senior cycle for Leaving Certificate. The study has found that more than one-in-three schools (57) have dropped at least one subject, with the biggest effect being on modern languages, with at least one being discontinued at almost one-in-10 of the schools that replied.
Science subjects are next-worst affected, with 13 of the 155 schools having dropped one of its science subjects, mostly either physics or chemistry, while Leaving Certificate history, accounting or economics are no longer being offered by 7% of the schools, and music and art are also reported to be strongly affected.
A briefing document for the union executive said the cutbacks are helping to erode the broad and balanced curriculum offered by schools, and it was of great concern that schools are being forced to drop or restrict programmes such as Leaving Cert Applied which promote student retention.
All second-level schools have only been allocated a teacher for every 19 students this year, compared to 18 a year ago, and along with cuts in language support staff and other areas, means more than 500 fewer teachers will be working than last year, more than double the number predicted by Education Minister Batt O’Keeffe after October’s budget.
Engineers Ireland director John Power called on the Government to heed the messages at the Global Irish Economic Forum last weekend about the importance of prioritising the teaching of maths and the physical sciences,
“We fully acknowledge the need for public sector spending cuts in a difficult economic climate but undermining maths and science subjects that underpin the smart economy framework seems short-sighted and counter-productive.”
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