As the Budget looms, it appears that it is the children of our country, especially the youngest and most vulnerable, who will be hit the hardest. Since 2008, all primary schools have undergone serious reductions in supports and funding, and yet Minister for Education, Ruairi Quinn, is threatening further swingeing cuts.
According to the INTO, in North Tipperary, 13.8% of pupils, are already in classes which exceed 30 pupils. Irish class sizes are back to where they were a decade ago – and getting worse. If there is an increase in class size, this percentage will increase substantially, as many schools will lose at least one, if not two class teachers. This will, in turn, increase the number of students in each class substantially – with that teacher gone, each remaining class may receive four or five extra students, and push many more students into multi-grade classes. We already have the second highest class sizes in Europe – surely the government does not want to push us to the top of this scale?
On 29th October, 2008, Ruairí Quinn described the last government’s attempt to increase class sizes as “an attack upon our children, the most vulnerable in our society. It makes it impossible for under-resourced primary school teachers to cherish all the children equally. How can they find the time or make the space to monitor and guide each child? Where, amidst the demands of curriculum and time, will they get the moment to realise that a child — your child or your grandchild — needs extra help or special time?” What a difference a few years and a bank bailout make.
Primary schools have already been faced with the loss of English language teachers, teachers for Travellers, disadvantaged staffing and huge cuts to the resources for children with special needs and learning disabilities. Class sizes have the biggest impact on all children’s learning – all the evidence shows that in smaller classes of 20, which is the EU average, learning outcomes improve – and this is especially true for children from disadvantaged backgrounds and for younger children.
The time has come for a joint alliance of teachers, parents and Boards of Management to shout “Stop!” A postcard campaign targeted at TDs is being organised by the National Alliance and is to start this week. All schools have been informed of the campaign against the cuts and postcards will be sent to schools. Families of primary school children will be asked to send the postcards to all their TDs urging them to resist cuts to primary education in the budget. The National Alliance for Primary Education includes Church of Ireland Board of Education, Catholic Primary Schools Management Association, Educate Together, An Foras Patrunachta, Gaelscoileanna, Irish National Teachers’ Organisation, Irish Primary Principals Network, National Association of Boards of Management in Special Education and the National Parents’ Council – Primary.
If these proposed cuts are not halted, it is not just the children of this generation, but also the next, who will suffer. As a major part of this campaign, an open meeting will be held in the Anner Hotel, Thurles, on Monday, September 23rd at 8p.m. All those interested in the future of primary education in this country will be welcome to attend.