More than a quarter of Laois’ 10,177 primary school children are in ‘supersized classes’ of over thirty pupils, the third worst in Leinster.
The Dept of Education figures place Laois joint third, after Dublin and Wicklow.
13 out of 14 children are in classes larger than the EU average of 20 pupils per teacher.
One class had 38 pupils last year says Sinn Féin TD Brian Stanley, who has called on the Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn to leave education untouched in today’s budget.
“Ireland is listed 18 out of 19 EU countries. If Government cuts go ahead in the budget we will be the worst in the EU. Our children’s educational needs are suffering because of austerity policies. Minister Quinn has already reneged on his promise not to raise third level fees, he should now ensure that primary education is given some protection against further cutbacks,” he said.
He says many Laois schools have a high number of pupils from non-English speaking families, “putting added pressure on teachers”.
“To make the situation even worse, as class sizes are increasing, the pupil teacher ratio is worsening. This is shameful and short sighted and our children’s educational needs are suffering because of the Government’s austerity policies. he said.
Laois’ Labour Senator John Whelan said Minister Quinn had “admitted and apologised for his rash promise regarding third level fees”.
“This is classic Brian Stanley and Sinn Féin propaganda, it’s opportunism. No minister in the last twenty years has put more into education in Laois. The signs are there to be seen after years of neglect,” he said.
He added that plans for the new Scoil Bhride in Knockmay have progressed to the next stage.
“The government are trying to maintain services while making savings, it’s like loaves and fishes,” he said, adding that 900 new teachers were recruited in Ireland, as well as additional SNAs.
“The Minister’s hands are tied. 81 percent of his budget is spent on teacher salaries and pensions,” he said.
Sen Whelan believed the pupil teacher ratio would not increase after the budget.
“I believe it will still be 28 to 1, no mean feat considering financial pressures and spiralling demands,” he said.
He says the larger class sizes are in towns, not rural areas, as schools accommodate families who moved here, mostly from Dublin.
“Principals are caught between a rock and a hard place,” he said.