Latest Department report highlights two shameful decades of supersized classes

The Department of Education’s recently published report, ‘Overview of Education 2000 – 2020’, shows that there has been little change in average primary class sizes over the last 20 years.

Since the beginning of the millennium, the average class size has only been reduced by approximately one pupil per class in 20 long years (reducing from 24.5 in 2000 to 23.3 last year*).

Irish primary class sizes remain the largest in the European Union. The average class size in Irish primary schools sits at 23.3 compared to the EU average of 20 pupils per class, and the OECD average of 21**. Notably, 85% of primary pupils are taught in classes above the European average.

The benefits of smaller class sizes in schools serving disadvantaged communities are well established. The startling fact that only a minority (45.4%) of pupils in our DEIS band one schools are in classes of below the EU average shows clearly why every future class size reduction must also be passed on to schools serving our most educationally disadvantaged communities.

The fact that only 15.2% of classes in Ireland were below the European average in 2020 makes it critically important for this government to set out its short-term plan to bring Ireland down from its shameful position of largest class sizes in the EU to the EU average of 20 children per class.

All political parties, including Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party, pledged to lower class sizes to the EU average over the coming years of government. Ahead of last year’s budget, INTO members called on the government to start this process with a one-point reduction, which successfully reduced class sizes by one pupil.

This year, we must see another reduction in class sizes to move us towards the EU average of 20 to 1. Any reduction to class size must be simultaneously passed on to DEIS schools, which serve our most disadvantaged pupils. INTO has already begun its lobbying campaign for Budget 2022 with a focus on class sizes.

INTO President Joe Mc Keown stated:

The statistics show that there were 78,230 Irish children in supersized classes of 30 or more last year when the pandemic began.  These figures are a damning indictment of how Irish primary classes remain far above the EU average. Our politicians must take the opportunity presented by reduced enrolment projections from now to 2025 to reduce class sizes every year for the next four years of government’s term. Anything less will continue the legacy of let downs suffered by Ireland’s primary school children for the last 20 years. Surely we can do better than this as a country.”

*For detailed figures, see Figure 3, Page 6 of the DE Statistical Bulletin – July 2021 Overview of Education 2000 – 2020

**For detailed figures, see Table D23 – Education at a Glance 2020 – OECD Indicators