Sean Cottrell said it is hard to understand why schools in the Department of Education’s DEIS (Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools) scheme and small schools were taking the brunt of cutbacks in the 2012 budget.
“Perhaps if the cuts were spread more evenly across the board, it might be seen as fairer and people might be more accepting of them.
“I haven’t met any principal who wasn’t prepared [before the budget] for a rise in class sizes,” he said.
Mr Cottrell told the IPPN annual conference, attended by the minister, there was anger the cuts were being made in addition to previous hits to schemes helping disadvantaged pupils — such as traveller children and those with special needs — particularly when there was an expectation that class size increases across all 3,300 primary schools were going to be announced.
“There was an acceptance it would be done across the board and that would be seen as fairer. But what has happened has been to hit the most marginalised.” he said.
His suggestion of spreading the cuts across all primary schools drew disapproval from just a minority of the 1,100-plus principals in the audience.
But the minister said he would not make promises he could not keep to reverse any cuts. He has, however, given hope that some of the 428 extra teachers which primary and second-level DEIS schools had kept from old disadvantage schemes might be kept, arising from a review he expects to be finished by his department in about three weeks.
But the minister made clear there will be no reversal of the changes in staffing arrangements for small schools, which will see around 100 rural primary schools lose a teacher in September, and 150 posts axed by 2014.
He said, however, that any school which feels it will be badly affected because of rising enrolments or other factors will be entitled to appal its teacher allocation.
Mr Quinn also indicated he would examine IPPN proposals for a system like those in remote parts of Australia, Canada and Spain, where groups of schools share administrative staff to allow teachers and principals to focus on classes.
His conference address was marked by a silent protest from more than 30 principals holding up signs in support of the campaign to protect small schools from cuts and closures.
Catherine Bradley, principal of Coppeen National School, Co Cork said: “We have three teachers for 81 pupils this year and would have been due to get a fourth teacher next September but for the budget. Now by 2014, we’d need 86 instead, and we’d have difficulty reaching that. Working with large numbers in classes of three different grades is very difficult.”
Former president Mary Robinson was keynote speaker at the conference.