INTO secures class size commitment but questions linger – Draft Programme for Government 

Primary class sizes

INTO notes the commitment in the draft government programme to reducing class sizes and addressing the funding gap at primary level. INTO had sought a clear commitment on class sizes from all parties to the government formation talks. It has never been more critical to have the words of the programme reflected in a specific reduction of class sizes in the Budget for 2021.

Ireland has the largest class sizes in the Eurozone. The EU average class size is 20, yet one in five primary pupils in Ireland is taught in a class of 30 or more children. We know that smaller class sizes have a positive effect on children’s learning.

Evidence shows that children from disadvantaged backgrounds, in particular, do better in smaller classes. While there was a small reduction in general class size in Budgets 2016 and 2018, there has been no corresponding reduction in our most disadvantaged schools.

Against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing efforts to balance public health advice with the need for a safe and orderly reopening of our schools, the spectre of crowded classrooms looms large.

INTO General Secretary John Boyle said:

Throughout the recent election, INTO members and parents across the country called on all political parties to commit to reducing pupil numbers by one pupil per class per year over the next five years so that the children of Ireland get the same chance as those throughout Europe. Every single party acknowledged this needs to be addressed. 

I commend our members for making their voices heard. Our job will be to hold this government to account and ensure they deliver on this pledge. The forthcoming budget will be a test for this government’s commitment to the primary pupils of this country.” 

School funding 

Schools are struggling to meet their bills for basic costs such as heating, cleaning and insurance with parents having to dig deep every year to  cover crucial school expenses.

Irish primary schools receive significantly less funding than second and third level institutions. Primary schools receive one euro per pupil per day to cover their running costs. Second-level schools get almost double that amount.

The standard capitation grant per pupil has dropped from €200 in 2010 to €183 at present, in contrast to the current figure of €317 at post-primary level.

Annual expenditure per student in Ireland is lower than the OECD average for pre-primary and primary education. Per-pupil expenditure at primary level in Ireland is substantially below OECD and EU averages. Ireland is 18th of 33 counties in spending and therefore in the bottom half of the OECD table.

Primary per pupil spend is also 10% below the EU average. This funding disparity is grossly unfair and damaging to children’s long-term prospects. Department of Education and Skills funding to primary schools for their day-to-day running costs covers only part of their bill. Parents and local communities are subsidising primary schools to the tune of €46m a year to cover basic costs – not sophisticated extras to enhance learning, but rather basic necessities required to effectively deliver the curriculum.

INTO General Secretary John Boyle said:

Teachers are there to teach, not to fundraise. Every single year, parents have to top up our primary education system to the tune of forty six million. It’s simply untenable that this should continue. Our pupils, teachers and their parents deserve nothing less than a fully-funded primary education system. The forthcoming budget will demonstrate the commitment of this new government to reducing this ongoing financial burden for parents and schools.”

Equal Pay 

The draft programme for government commits to equal opportunity and to a local bargaining process within the next public service pay agreement. In 2011 and 2012, the government imposed  pay cuts  on new entrants to the public sector. In the teaching profession, those who entered post-2010 were subject to a 10% cut (at each point on the scale) and new entrants reverted to the start of the scale in 2011. In the following year, the qualification allowance was removed for new entrants. This allowance had been paid to all teachers. Primary school leaders also suffer from pay inequality.

The current government has committed to ending the plight of pay inequality in our education system once and for all. Indeed, in recent weeks, the Minister for Finance acknowledged that the government must honour its word and confine this injustice to the dustbin of history. INTO is determined to use the local bargaining clause to eradicate pay inequality from the teaching profession.

INTO General Secretary John Boyle said:

They say your word is your bond. The current government has given its word that it will end the ongoing injustice of pay inequality in the forthcoming public sector pay deal. Alongside the commitment of the Fine Gael Ministers for Education and Finance, both the Fianna Fail and Green Party manifestos included similar pledges. 

With the potential formation of a new government today,  we now expect our dialogue with government to resume so that we can finally close this ugly chapter and we will seek to utilise the local bargaining clause as outlined.”