Yet again, OECD report shines spotlight on supersized primary classes  

OECD ‘Education at a glance’ report 2022

The latest OECD ‘Education at a Glance’ report sets out in no uncertain terms a negative correlation between larger classes and mean performance in reading, with a clear view as to the benefits of smaller classes for schools in disadvantaged communities.

The report is set against an international commitment towards meeting Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG4) to deliver quality education, with the report setting out this context and urging governments to use the data to invest in education (OECD report: ‘indicators can be used to assist governments in building more effective and equitable education systems’).

Class sizes are too high in Ireland 

The report confirms that Ireland’s supersized classes remain the largest in the EU. The average class size of 24 in Irish primary schools is the highest among the EU 22 countries, where average class sizes are four pupils lower than in Ireland.

The average class size in Irish primary schools during the period of this report was 24:1, compared to the EU average of 20 pupils per class and an OECD average, as confirmed in today’s report, of 21 pupils. Countries such as Estonia, Finland and Poland fare better again with an average of less than 20 pupils per class.

Primary Education spend well below average

The report shows yet again that spending on primary education remained lower than at both second and third level in 2018. The proportion of Ireland’s national wealth spent on primary education was 20% lower than the average proportion spent by OECD countries. Ireland’s expenditure on educational facilities per primary school student was more than 10% less than the OECD average spend and even lower when compared to the EU 22 average with countries like Belgium, Denmark, Iceland, Israel and New Zealand investing far more than Ireland.

Irish primary teachers work longer hours 

Irish primary school teachers also teach for considerably longer hours than teachers in other countries. Irish primary teachers teach for 915 hours compared to the OECD average of 807 hours. Within the EU 22, alongside teachers in the Netherlands and Luxembourg, Irish primary teachers provide the most hours of compulsory instruction per annum.

Reacting to the report, INTO General Secretary John Boyle said:

In the midst of a pandemic it remains a national embarrassment that Ireland languishes at the bottom of the EU class size table. The INTO is actively campaigning for further reductions in class sizes in the forthcoming budget. It is time for government’s action to match the rhetoric of the pandemic months, and for swift steps to be taken to invest in our primary and special schools as a national priority. Every year for the next four years we must see a minimum annual reduction of one pupil per class. It is imperative that annual class size reductions are applied to all schools, including our DEIS schools which were initially overlooked this time last year. The huge commitment given by principals and teachers in our primary and special schools during the pandemic must be matched by government commitments to support the sector which has been neglected for far too long.

The OECD annual report yet again shines a spotlight on a wilful lack of investment and support for our primary education system. We simply must do better.”