Over 80 percent of primary pupils in Co Leitrim are in classes greater than the EU average of 20 with nearly 3,000 pupils in classes of 20 or more and more than 760 pupils in “super sized” classes of 30 or more children.
The latest figures supplied by the Irish National Teachers Organisation (INTO) say that over 21 percent of Co Leitrim National School pupils are in classes of more than 30 pupils or more with nearly 60 percent of students in classes serving between 20 to 29 pupils.
The INTO said the figures showed the reality on the ground in Irish primary schools to date. The union said large classes are a result of increasing school numbers and government failure to tackle overcrowded classes and are calling for an immediate reduction in class sizes.
The general secretary of the INTO, Sheila Nunan, described the findings as a major challenge for Minister for Education and Skills, Jan O’Sullivan. Ms Nunan said Irish class sizes were now the highest in the Eurozone and she called on the Minister to progressively reduce class sizes in Irish primary schools over the next number of years.
Ms Nunan said the learning potential of primary school pupils was being compromised by larger classes. She added it was indefensible that Irish children were packed into the most overcrowded classes in the Eurozone at the very time they are best able to learn. Ms Nunan said in overcrowded classes there is little if any time for individual attention and one-to-one support.
She said educational research on the negative effect of overcrowded classes is unequivocal, especially with young children. “Even critics of demands for smaller classes concede there are big benefits in the early years. Smaller classes give more children a chance of fulfilling their potential,” said Ms Nunan, “and are less expensive and more effective than trying to remedy things at a later date.”
She said smaller classes in Canada had positive effects on children’s academic outcomes, behaviour and social interactions. “Teachers were able to pick up on problems as well as strengths and talents and smaller class sizes were credited with these improvements”.
She said the primary school classroom is the frontline of the education service. “It is where most children spend the majority of their time,” said Ms Nunan. “Large class sizes are affecting over half a million pupils and their families. Primary schools should be a national priority.”