66,000 primary pupils in supersized classes

The Department of Education has published a new report on class sizes in Ireland, titled ‘Statistical Bulletin – July 2022, Overview of Education 2001 – 2021’. This report provides a damning assessment on the size of Ireland’s supersized classes.

In the last two years, the INTO has secured a one-point reduction in class sizes across Budget 2021 and Budget 2022. Class sizes in Ireland have been reduced to an average of 22.8 pupils (DE Statistical Bulletin, July 2022). Despite this recent success, Irish primary class sizes remain well above the EU average of 20 (Education at a Glance, OECD 2021).

During the pandemic, the issue of supersized classes (classes with 30 or more pupils) rose to national attention. Ireland was the only European country contending with social distancing in classes and such a high number of pupils.

Evidence continues to show that children from disadvantaged backgrounds do better in smaller classes. Leading academic studies regularly identify a correlation between smaller classes and better student outcomes, with pupils from minority and disadvantaged backgrounds performing better in smaller classes. 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.

Reacting to the publication of the latest statistical report, INTO General Secretary John Boyle said:

“The finding of this statistical report provides a damning assessment of the glacial pace of tackling Ireland’s supersized class sizes. 66,104 pupils continue to learn in an Irish primary classroom containing 30 or more pupils. This is simply unacceptable, and, unless it is addressed quickly, it will remain a major barrier to the post-pandemic recovery needed in primary education. It is now over twenty years since the then Minister for Education, now An Taoiseach Micheál Martin stated that “there was no place in a modern education system for overcrowded classes”.

Yet, in 2022, only one in six primary pupils is fortunate to learn in a class below the EU average of 20. The government may well tout the fact that the average of 22.8 is the lowest class size average recorded since 2001, but shamefully it remains the highest in the EU. Budget 2023 must deliver class size reductions of two pupils per class in all schools, including DEIS schools, to end this lingering national embarrassment and provide equal opportunities for Ireland’s children.” 

A copy of the DE report is available here.