Education Minister Ruairi Quinn faces huge pressure on budgets for new teachers and classrooms as student numbers look set to jump up to four times more than previously predicted.
The revised projections, based on Census 2011 figures and the latest migration and birth rate patterns, will put the Government under pressure to further increase class sizes and pupil-teacher ratios to limit the cost implications.
From current primary enrolments of 525,000 children, the Department of Education projected in Jun 2011 that the number would rise by about 15,000 to total 540,000 in the next eight years. Instead, the 2020 figure is estimated at almost 602,000, four times more of an increase than was predicted.
In the short term, 2014 primary enrolments are now expected to reach 549,000 — almost 8,500 more than the 540,500 estimate last summer. This could mean €15m more in primary teachers’ pay a year than perviously being budgeted for, before account is taken of additional requirements for non-classroom teachers and related buildings and school budget costs.
The number of secondary pupils now looks set to jump from 327,000 this year to 413,118 in 2026 — 30,000 more than the department projected. The Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) estimates this will require 4,500 extra teachers or an average 320 more each year for over a decade.
However, even short-term predictions have been vastly revised, as the 340,178 enrolment anticipated last summer for 2016 has been changed to 346,393. Without changing the current second-level pupil-teacher ratio (PTR) of 19:1, this would mean more than 1,000 extra teachers being needed in second-level schools by then.
This compares to almost 700 additional staff that last year’s projections would have required and could conservatively add €15m more than previously anticipated to the annual pay budget alone. Unless there are further cuts in other areas of the schools budget in the meantime, more additional costs would also arise in capitation grants for the running of schools, and classrooms, labs, and other capital facilities.
TUI general secretary John MacGabhann said the changes should be seen as an opportunity to give work to thousands of teachers currently struggling to make a living on part-time hours and those currently on teacher-training courses.
“PTRs and other supports have sustained huge damage, to the point where schools can’t sustain any more... those levels of staffing and supports would have to be maintained at the very least.”
The department said it does not comment on the estimates process ahead of the budget.
A spokeswoman said the projected short-term increase in pupil numbers has already been factored into budgetary decisions.
“The revisions to the previously-published pupil projections relate mainly to the medium to longer-term period,” she said.
“It is too early to speculate on the resource implications of these changes until there is greater clarity, at a later stage, on whether the assumptions underlying these projections materialise as envisaged.”
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