Budget 2024 misses open goal on class size and school supports 

To build a brighter future for every child, over the last few months members of the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) intensively lobbied politicians for increased investment in primary and special education. Many primary classes are overcrowded, our schools are under-funded, our school leaders are under-supported and mental health services for pupils are under-resourced. These four areas needed to be addressed by Government in Budget 2024.

However, Budget 2024 fails miserably.

It will result in the loss of approximately 250 mainstream teaching posts in primary schools next September and between now and then primary schools will be expected to get by on much less in direct grant assistance than they received in the last school year.

In keeping with government aspirations for Ireland to be the best place on earth to be a child, INTO called on Government to ensure that Irish children would have at least the same opportunities as their EU counterparts. That could have been achieved by reducing class size by two points in all primary schools, and by substantially increasing the capitation grant. To make matters worse, Minister Foley has reneged on promises made last Easter meaning that 2,400 vital positions of assistant principal, which have been vacant for fifteen years will not now be filled in this government’s lifetime.

The government rhetoric around balancing the needs of society and building an Ireland for the future does not appear to apply to the 550,000 children aged 4-12 who go to school every day.

No end to shameful supersized classes

Reacting to government’s failure to reduce class sizes in Budget 2024, INTO General Secretary John Boyle said:

There’s no getting away from the fact that Ireland’s primary school classes are the highest in the Eurozone, remaining almost 3 pupils per classroom more than the average throughout the EU. In fact, 83% of our classes are larger than the EU average of 20 pupils. Over 60,000 children are in supersized classes of 30 pupils or more.

It would have been a legitimate hope that a government with a record budget surplus would have taken decisive action. Instead of doing that, today’s no-change announcement will add to overcrowding in schools. Our politicians had a once in a lifetime chance to reach the EU class size average. They missed an open goal.

He added:

Today’s primary education budget lacks any ambition and has left the long-sought milestone of 20 pupils per class as far from sight as ever. Consequently, the problems associated with very large classes will continue for years to come. The demoralising, deleterious, disappointing and discouraging education budget for 2024 signals that our national shame of super-sized classes is set to continue beyond the lifetime of the current government.

Financial insolvency looming for schools 

Reacting to the school funding provision in Budget 2024, INTO General Secretary said:

While today’s budget announces some extra money for schools, they will still be expected to fundraise to meet basic expenses, and parents will still be relied upon to keep schools afloat. The low level of primary school funding places intolerable burdens on school principals, teachers and parents and further disadvantages pupils in DEIS schools. Funding must reflect the real operating costs of primary schools.

The INTO believes that every child has the right to attend a school that is comfortable, bright, adequately heated and ventilated with appropriate furniture and technology. Budget 2024 only serves to copper fasten Ireland’s place near the bottom of the league for investment in primary education.

School leadership let down again 

At the INTO Congress last Easter Minister Norma Foley indicated that she would prioritise the restoration of posts of responsibility. These promises have been reneged upon. Primary and special schools have suffered greatly because of the moratorium on promotions. After four budgets this government has added to that suffering. The availability of promotional posts in larger schools would make working in such schools much more attractive, assist with succession planning, and help to retain teachers and principals who are stepping down due to burnout.

General Secretary John Boyle stated:

Minister Foley’s disingenuous remarks that restoring posts of responsibility would be important have proven to be a fallacy.  Today’s reneging is a kick in the teeth to those who have been working voluntarily since 2009 in schools without middle leadership teams. The Department of Education can no longer take the efforts of these teachers for granted.

Supports for inclusion

The INTO acknowledges the government announcement of an increase in funding to support inclusion, including:

  • Over 700 new teaching posts;
  • Over 1,200 new SNA posts;
  • €11m special schools package – 100 SET posts – admin Deputy Principals for special schools;
  • €20m for Summer Programme;
  • Additional funding to support students at risk of educational disadvantage, in particular in the area of retention;
  • Hot School Meals Programme for an additional 900 schools.

Building on the on-site counselling pilot scheme announced in June 2023, the INTO sought to ensure the nationwide rollout of these essential school supports. It appears that further enhancement of this scheme will be delivered next year but it’s clear that most schools will not see the benefit.

Other key education announcements in the budget included: 
  • €81 million in capitation funding;
  • €67 million to expand free books scheme to Junior Cycle students;
  • Continued investment in mental health initiatives for primary schools;
  • €940m capital budget for school building projects – including the 300 already underway. A further 200 projects will break ground in 2024 and 2025;
  • €50m school transport scheme / fee waiver on school transport extended;
  • Zero vat rate on solar panels for schools;

Further updates on the taxation package and the breakdown of the education budget will be available following the Department of Education’s briefing tomorrow.