‘State funds for childcare could be used to reduce class sizes’

THE state money given to parents for childcare costs could be used more effectively to help reduce infant class sizes, principals have suggested.

An estimated 75% of about 60,000 children beginning primary school next September will be aged under five-and-a-half, meaning they still qualify for the annual €1,000 state childcare supplement.

Irish Primary Principals’ Network (IPPN) president Larry Fleming said schools appreciate that the class size increases being forced on them can not be reversed in the next few years. Instead, however, he suggested that money needs to be found elsewhere in a way which does not require increased Government spending.

“The cost of the last year of the childcare supplement could be diverted immediately to reducing the class size of junior infants, which would be totally cost neutral. It does not make sense to continue paying this money to parents when their children are at school,” said Mr Fleming.

“The number of children in any teacher’s class is an important factor in determining how each child learns and is taught but reducing overall class size is not the answer to every educational problem in our schools,” he said.

However, he said, it is important to prioritise smaller class sizes for infant classes and the €45 million in childcare supplement money would almost cover the cost of ensuring every child could start their education in a class of 24, with about €15m required from elsewhere.

The IPPN has also proposed changes to the way in which the school building programme, on which €580m is due to be spent this year, could be operated more efficiently. They have called for a reduction in the fees charged by architects, quantity surveyors and other professionals on school projects, as well as more openness by the Department of Education to schemes like allowing developers build schools in new residential areas and lease them to the state for a number of years before buying them.

The principals’ organisation are also urging the Government to find savings in the €190m school transport system, which is being audited by a group appointed this month by Minister of State Sean Haughey.

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