Wednesday, 14 October 2020
I thank the Minister for attending this morning to answer these questions. The announcement yesterday that the class sizes will be reduced by one point is and will not be ambitious enough. Sinn Féin’s alternative budget proposed two points. Recent figures also released to my colleague, an Teachta Ó Laoghaire, show that 1,300 schools throughout the State have class sizes exceeding 30 pupils, and, disappointingly, 38 of these are in County Clare. Will the Minister confirm her plans to reduce teacher-pupil ratios in schools?
I thank the Deputy. As she will be aware, under the programme for Government there is a commitment to seek to make further progress in reducing the pupil-teacher ratios in primary schools. The budgets of 2016 and 2018 improved the staffing schedule by one point on both occasions to its historically lowest level ever of one teacher to 26 pupils. I was delighted to build further on this progress yesterday by announcing a further one-point reduction in yesterday’s budget. The staffing schedule for the next academic year now stands at one teacher for every 25 pupils, which is a historically low figure in this country. This measure will help ensure better teacher retention in primary schools while also ensuring that fewer pupils are required to retain or recruit a teacher. The key factor for determining the level of staffing resources provided at individual school level is the staffing schedule for the relevant school year and pupil enrolments on the previous 30 September.
There is no change in the current school year to the staffing of the school referred to by the Deputy in the question submitted by her. The school staffing schedule for 2021-2022 will be published next year, and at that stage, schools will be able to establish their staffing arrangements for the following school year. The staffing process, as I have outlined earlier, includes an appeals mechanism where schools that might not be satisfied have an opportunity to submit a staffing appeal to independent appeals board. The published appeal criteria include the specific criteria for small schools, and schools are entitled to make such an appeal to the independent board.
I appreciate that we are making a step in right direction but the Minister has to admit that we are not going far enough. Our class sizes are too big and our school buildings themselves are bursting at the seams in many parts of the country. One case that I have been asked to bring to the attention of the Minister is Clooney National School in County Clare. The principal contacted me and relayed to me that because of the enrolment figures for 2021, the school is due to lose a teacher. He also conveyed to me the worry that this is causing him and his staff with the anticipation of what is coming next. I hope the Minister will agree with me that there have been many challenges in getting our schools reopened and this has been a topic on all teachers' and principals' minds. I hope the Minister will also agree that the principal, Mr Greene, should not have to be worried or be concerned about how we will be able to maintain social distancing next year if he loses a teaching post.
I thank the Deputy and reiterate that there has been an unprecedented financial package allocated to the schools sector in recent months which is in excess of €375 million. This is unprecedented and never before were resources of that nature allocated to the education sector. This underlines the determination and commitment of the Government to recognise the great importance of the role played by the education sector in our society. That commitment was continued yesterday, as referred to by the Deputy, with the opportunity to reduce the pupil-teacher ratio from 26:1 to 25:1. Substantial progress has been made in recent years, given that in the 2019-20 school year the average pupil-teacher ratio was 1:15.
The EU class size is 1:20. We are slowly but surely making our way towards that ratio.
I would assume the package that was introduced yesterday will positively enhance all schools going forward. In regard to the school referenced by the Deputy, there is no change to the staffing of the school in the current school year. When the staffing schedule for 2021-22 is published early next year I am sure that the school referenced by the Deputy and other schools will be able to establish their staffing arrangements for the year going forward.