Schools face pupil ‘bulge’ as numbers set to rise and fall

Swopping teachers between primary and secondary schools may need to be considered as the education system faces a sharp rise in enrolments followed by an equally large decline.

Forecasts for the future needs of schools show the number of primary school pupils reaching a record high in 2018, with the peak to follow in secondary schools in 2025.

The increases are due to the record birth numbers from 2007 to 2012, combined with high immigration pre-recession, but with more people leaving the country than immigrating here and birth numbers back to normal, the impact on schools will be a temporary “bulge”.

According to a report prepared for the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, however, there will be substantial cost implications for schools.

It is calculated that an extra €226m will be needed between now and 2023 to pay for extra teachers and increased school capitation grants alone. The figure does not take into account the capital costs of extra schools or extensions or the payroll for resource teachers and special needs assistants.

In the 10 years after that, costs are expected to fall cumulatively by almost €500m but that will partly depend on how the Department of Education handles the possible surplus of teachers in the years of declining pupil numbers.

The report notes that it is likely that 556 to 772 fewer primary school teachers will be needed in 2021 to 2023 while 508 to 732 more secondary school teachers will be needed in the same period.

It asks: “Does the current age structure of primary teachers lend itself to a natural decline in numbers or could the transfer of teachers between primary and second level be facilitated in line with the demographic needs?”

At their peak in 2018, the number of children in primary school is projected to reach more than 574,000 and then to fall by almost 10,000 per year up to 2033.

When secondary school enrolments peak in 2025, they are expected to be in excess of 400,000 and then to fall by more than 8,000 per year up to 2033.


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