2nd December 2019
INTO wholly rejects the assumptions which underlie the report ‘Developing a Teacher Demand and Supply Model for Ireland 2020 – 2036’.
The report compiled for the Teacher Supply Steering Group, is based entirely on demographics, assuming that fewer pupils should equate to fewer teachers. It’s hardly surprising that a group which has excluded all the teacher unions in the state, would fail to appreciate that this is only one factor affecting teacher supply and demand.
The government’s ambition to deliver the best education system in Europe by 2026 will fail if it doesn’t lower class sizes, roll out a much-needed national supply panel, deliver one administrative day per week for teaching principals and bolster teacher supports for a diverse range of pupil needs, from language difficulties to special needs.
Class sizes in Ireland remain well above the EU and OECD averages. With 25 pupils on average in an Irish primary classroom, compared to the EU average of 20 or the OECD average of 21, its clear Irish pupils are losing out. Lower class sizes have a very positive impact on children’s learning with evidence showing that in smaller classes learning outcomes significantly improve.
Reductions in class sizes were not granted to our most disadvantaged schools in recent budgets. While our union believes lower class sizes will benefit all pupils, it is simply unacceptable that these reductions were not applied to those schools that need them the most. Schools in disadvantaged communities secure a teacher for every 24 pupils (senior classes) and 20 pupils (junior classes). These class sizes do little to address the particular challenges of such schools.
A 2017 report by the Educational Research Centre called ‘Addressing Educational Disadvantage’ found that evidence indicated that children perform better in smaller classes, especially in the earlier grades. The report also found that the number of pupils in a class should be fewer than 20 in order to maximise the beneficial effects.
It’s time to invest in lower class sizes and help improve the life chances for these pupils.
INTO has called on the government to make lowering class sizes government policy, reducing classes by one pupil per year until 2026. Such a policy shift would deliver an educational experience we could all take pride in.
In 2017, 75 per cent of Irish primary schools had 10 or more days when they could not secure a qualified replacement, with 118,112 absences not covered in the same year (17 per cent of total absences). INTO has long called for the reintroduction of national supply panels to cover absences in schools as they arise. Following a prolonged campaign from the union, earlier this year, Minister McHugh announced a pilot scheme catering for ninety schools. The initial reports demonstrate that this pilot has been a success. Every child must have a fully qualified teacher every day. The only way to guarantee this is to establish a nationwide supply panel.
Leadership and management days
The government’s own ‘Primary Education Forum’ has recognised the issue of workload as it relates to teaching principals in particular. INTO has highlighted the excessive workload burdens facing these school leaders and is campaigning for one release day per week to enable teaching principals to balance their roles as both a school leader and teacher.
From educational disadvantage to pupils with special needs and newcomer children, our schools are welcoming more and more pupils who need more bespoke supports if they are to excel in our primary schools. The report has failed to take into account these evolving changes which our schools are catering for, and will be catering for into the future.
Another assumption on which this report is based is the proposed plan to raise Ireland’s retirement age to the highest in Europe. This will result in teachers remaining at work until the age of 68. INTO continues to challenge this policy.
INTO General Secretary John Boyle said:
The government’s dream of a world class education system by 2026 will remain a pipe dream unless there is a serious shift in policy. Excluding the voice of teachers from this forum has ensured the group has failed to appreciate the wider issues of class sizes, supply panels, school leaders and diversity in education, all of which need to be addressed urgently.
Parents will no doubt be shocked to learn that there are tens of thousands of school days on which their children do not have access to a qualified teacher.
INTO vigorously rejects the assumptions on which this report is based and will seek a meeting with the Minister to discuss the issues facing primary recruitment in this country.