Teachers angered by threat of increased class sizes

THE threat of increases in class sizes next year has prompted an angry response from teachers and opposition parties.

While reports that the move is under serious consideration have not been confirmed, recent talks between the Department of Education, teacher unions, parent organisations and school management groups to find alternative savings are understood to have made little progress. The department is understood to be considering submissions from almost a dozen education partners, but it is expected that these will not offer savings of the level required by the Department of Finance.

This may leave Education Minister Ruairi Quinn with little option but to push up class sizes and save almost €80 million on the annual teachers’ pay bill of around €3.8 billion. In 2009, previous education minister Batt O’Keeffe increased the number of pupils per primary teacher from 26 to 27 and, at second level, the mainstream pupil-teacher ratio rose from 18 to 19, and to 20 in fee-paying schools.

Last November’s four-year national recovery plan which underpins the EU/IMF bailout made clear that class sizes may have to be raised again if significant additional pay savings could not be found elsewhere in the education budget. But although the prospect has been clearly flagged, recent media reports of a possible increase in class sizes in 2012 have drawn a strong reaction.

Teachers’ Union of Ireland deputy general secretary Annette Dolan said there has been just one meeting with department officials to date on finding other pay-related savings.

“We have not identified other areas to cut, but the meat is already stripped from the bone in education, which is not the place to be cutting back during a recession,” she said.

The union warned that increasing pupil-teacher ratios at second level would have the biggest impact on the ability to offer minority subjects, such as Leaving Certificate science subjects that are the focus of efforts to boost the economy. Ms Dolan said schools would also be forced to choose between some subjects or increasing the uptake for higher level maths by having smaller classes.

Raising class sizes could also mean avoiding further cuts to teachers and other supports.

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