Wednesday, 9 April 2008
Seán Haughey (Dublin North Central, Fianna Fail)
I thank Senator Ross for raising this matter and giving me an opportunity to outline to the House the improvements that have been made in this area in recent years. In the primary sector alone there are approximately 6,000 more teachers on the Department's payroll than there were in 2002. Extra teachers have been provided in the 2006-07 and 2007-08 school years specifically to reduce class sizes. The latest figures available on average primary class sizes relate to the 2006-07 school year. At that time, the average class size was 24 and the pupil-teacher ratio, including resource teachers etc., was 16.4:1 compared to 22.2:1 in the 1996-97 school year.
In the 2006-07 year schools were staffed on the basis of a general rule of at least one classroom teacher for every 28 children. Given that the national average was 24, many schools benefited from much more favourable staffing ratios than this. For the current school year, extra teachers were provided to staff schools on the basis of a general rule of at least one classroom teacher for every 27 children.
Under the delivering equality of opportunity in schools, DEIS, programme, substantially lower class sizes apply in the case of urban primary schools with the highest concentration of disadvantage. The programme for Government contains a commitment to provide 4,000 additional primary teachers between 2007 and 2012. With the extra teachers already put in place this year and those provided for in the budget we are ahead of target with about 2,000 extra primary teachers to be delivered within just two years.
Significant improvements have been also made in the staffing of our second level schools in recent years. By the 2006-07 school year, there were in excess of 2,000 more second level teachers than in 1997 and the pupil-teacher ratio had been reduced from 16.1: 1 to 13.1:1. Post-primary schools are accorded a considerable local discretion in the way in which they organise matters of subject choice, teacher allocation and class size. Some second level classes can be very small, where few students choose that subject. A student who is in a class of 25 in English, could be in a class of ten in physics or a modern language subject. Similarly, the same teacher may have a large class at honours level and a small class at pass level. Both primary and post-primary schools can avail of an independent appeals process on the adequacy of their teacher allocation.
The most recent edition of the OECD report Education at a Glance found that the average class size at lower secondary in Ireland was considerably lower than the OECD average. During the lifetime of this Government, we are committed to prioritising reductions in the size of Irish, English and Maths classes at second level. The timing of these improvements will depend on the resources available in future budgets.
The Senator will be aware that budget 2008 provided €4.6 billion or €380 million extra for teacher pay and pensions. This is a very substantial level of additional investment in the current economic environment and reflects the huge improvements that have been made in school staffing in recent years. The Minister for Education and Science has made it clear that while she would have liked to have been able to reduce primary class sizes further for the next school year that was not possible in the present economic circumstances.
Teacher numbers at both levels have increased significantly in recent years. We are committed to further improvements over the lifetime of the Government. We will also continue our focus on measures to improve the quality of education in our schools to ensure that increased resources lead to better outcomes for our children. I thank the Senator for raising this matter in the House.