€88m to keep up with rising class sizes

An €88m investment will see 1,700 more teachers and special needs assistants employed in schools next year as the Government tries to keep pace with record pupil increases.

While the investment has been welcomed by teachers and schools organisations, they say it will do nothing to reverse previous increases in class sizes or the other cuts of recent austerity budgets.

The increased staffing made the headline feature of Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan’s budget, which sees her department given a non-capital budget of €8.3bn next year, up €60m — or nearly 0.75% — on this year’s allocation.

She said she was pleased to have secured the extra funding from cabinet colleague Brendan Howlin, given the expectation a few months ago that she should cut education spending by more than €30m in 2015.

“The number of children in our schools will rise by 40,000 over the next three years, with about 13,000 of those enrolling in our schools next year,” she told reporters last night.

The staffing increases include 910 extra primary teachers, comprising of 600 classroom teachers to provide for increased enrolments, and 310 resource teachers for children with disabilities. About 470 more teachers than this year will be employed in second-level schools, with more than one third to be hired as resource teachers.

Of 365 additional special needs assistant posts by the end of 2015, the Department of Education expects 145 to be in place by the end of this year.

The Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (Asti) said the budget does nothing to make up for lost ground over the past five years, and pupil-teacher ratios are now sixth-worst in 31 OECD countries.

“Previously announced cuts, such as the reduced funding to schools and the moratorium on posts of responsibility, will be implemented again next year and will make day-to-day life even more difficult for school communities,” said Asti president Philip Irwin.

Irish National Teachers’ Organisation general secretary Sheila Nunan said the additional posts and anticipated retirement levels would mean significant job opportunities for unemployed teachers. But she criticised the absence of measures to reverse cuts to staffing in small schools over the last three years.

“The failure to tackle overcrowded classes will undermine initiatives in schools, including literacy and numeracy, school self-evaluation, and anti-bullying. Teachers are front line staff in the education sector who will deliver improvement if properly supported and resourced,” she said.

Ms O’Sullivan said she appreciated the difficulties for schools caused by the erosion of middle management through a ban on promotions below principal and deputy principal grade in recent years. She plans to sit down with education partners in the coming year to discuss possible changes.

The National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals, which has repeatedly called for a restoration of middle management posts to second-level schools, said it is anxious to move this agenda forward and to engage with the minister on the matter.


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