New figures showing that 1,318 classes across the country hold 30 or more children demonstrates the challenges faced by schools during the pandemic, according to Sinn Féin.
They say there are "countless classes that are far too big, in buildings too small, and not fit for purpose".
One in five children are currently in a class over 30.
In Cork last year, there were 147 schools with classes of 30 children or more.
These large numbers have also been seen in Galway (69) and Meath (74). In Westmeath, there was a class of 45 in one school last year.
Our Education system is understaffed, underfunded, and overcrowded. Tackling this is essential to keeping schools open safely, and sustainably https://t.co/4Rco3aty64— Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire (@Donnchadhol) September 8, 2020
Party spokesperson on Education Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire launched a Sinn Féin policy document ‘Keeping Our Schools Open’, today.
“Sinn Féin wants to abolish all classes of over 30 kids and never allow them to return, and work towards attaining an EU average of 20 children per class," he said.
"We have an education system overcrowded, underfunded, understaffed, we have some of the highest pupil-teacher ratios in Europe and indeed the western world.
Sinn Féin's key proposals are:
- Class Sizes and Space: An audit of school buildings to identify schools struggling most with lack of space, and a commitment of €300m to address this. Abolishing all classes of over 30 kids, and working towards attaining a pupil-teacher ratio of 20:1 at a cost of €72m;
- Protecting Jobs and Incomes: An expansion of force majeure leave for parents who must stay at home to mind a child who is self-isolating;
- No Child Left Behind: Recruitment of 500 additional SNAs at a cost of €14.4m;
- Rapid Testing: The introduction of rapid, priority testing for all symptomatic students and staff;
- School Transport: Increasing the bus fleet so that no child loses their seat on a bus.
Sinn Féin say a huge obligation has been left on schools to facilitate online learning and lack the expertise to do so, and guidance from the Department of Education has not been forthcoming.
"It's obvious there needs to be more guidance, the National Council For Special Education (NCSE) needs to be providing more guidance too," Mr Ó Laoghaire said.
“Keeping the virus out of schools, and keeping schools open, also means supporting parents to do the right thing and keep symptomatic children at home.
“An assurance is needed that parents who must stay at home with their child are not out of pocket for doing so."
There have been a number of positive coronavirus cases in schools since they reopened at the end of August, however, the rate is not said to be giving public health experts cause for concern yet.