Méid an Téacs

Increasing birth rate puts pressure on schools

Meitheamh 30, 2014

The sharp increase in Ireland’s birth rate over the past 15 years is reflected again the key statistics released by the Department of Education and Skills this morning.

Nearly 16,000 additional children entered our school system last September, with 9,895 additional children at primary and 5,852 at second level.

The process of amalgamating small schools, which is being resisted by communities in rural areas continues apace. Even though there was an increase of almost 10,000 children in our primary schools last year, they were taught in seven fewer schools than in 2012, with the number of mainstream primary school dropping from 3,152 to 3,145.

This decrease is a combination of the establishment of 16 new schools, mainly in areas of growing population, and the closure or amalgamation of 23 schools. There are now 1,351 primary schools with fewer than 100 pupils, with 600 of these having fewer than 50.

This process is also ongoing at second level where the number of secondary schools decreased by two to 373, although there was an increase of four in the number of vocational schools to 256, and by one community and comprehensive school bringing their number to 94, giving an overall increase of two additional second-level schools .

Half of these schools have more than 500 pupils, although 15 second-level schools have less than 100. These changes in the numbers of schools in each sector at second level are reflected in the numbers of students attending each school type, increasing by 3,051 in VEC schools, 1,779 in secondary schools and 1,022 within the community and comprehensive sector.

Surprisingly, given the need to provide education and training for our growing population and to meet the needs of prospective employers, the number of vocational schools offering Post-Leaving Certificate (PLC) programmes dropped from 139 to 131.

PLC programmes

This decrease in colleges offering PLC programmes is reflected in a drop of 1,521 students taking such programmes in 2013/2014, bringing their numbers down to 34,003.

Due to budget changes last year, the pupil-teacher ratio in PLC programmes increased sharply which is reflected in an increase from 18.7 to 19.8. This is in contrast to the PTR in the rest of the second-level sector which remained at 13.9. The number of teachers employed in the PLC sector decreased by 185 to 1,719.

It would appear that Minister for Education and Skills Ruairí Quinn, in attempting to fund increases in our first- and second-level school going population, has done so by cutting back severely the provision for PLC programmes.

Reflecting these additional 15,747 students at first- and second-level, the numbers of teaching posts increased by 1,090, with an increase of 653 teaching staff full-time equivalent posts at first and 437 at second level. There are an additional 653 teaching posts in primary schools but only 270 of them are working as teachers in mainstream classes.