There is growing concern for the future education of primary school children in Galway caused by pressures placed on already dwindling resources due to cuts, teacher employment restrictions, and increases in class sizes.
Figures from the Department of Education released this week showed that nationally more than 86 per cent of primary pupils are in class sizes of 20 or more, with one in five in classes of more than 30. The 2010 to 2011 school year figures for Galway show that 16.5 per cent of children were in class sizes of more than 30, while 62 per cent were in class sizes of between 20 and 29.
Speaking to the Advertiser regarding the effects of cuts on education in Galway schools, local INTO branch secretary Michael Gallagher said previous figures showing a national average of around 25 per cent for classes with 30 pupils or more “is a false figure”.
“Our biggest concern is what is coming down the line. In the next one to two years there is going to be 10,000 more children in the system because of the population growth. The IMF and the ECB have stipulated that the Government are not allowed to appoint extra teachers. This is going to lead to an increase in the pupil/teacher ratio.
“At the moment there are classes in Galway with 35 to 36 pupils. The national average is said to be about 25 per cent, this is a false figure, as they are taking the total number of students and dividing it by the number of teachers. Most schools have 30 plus in a class. The Government use that figure to put a spin on it. I know of schools in Galway with up to 35 in a class. In rural schools there could be just 12 pupils and two teachers, now for them to get a third teacher they would need 51 pupils. So there are schools that might have 50 pupils but still only have two teachers.”
The INTO Galway branch is also concerned about the cuts to the RTTs (resource teachers for Travellers ) and the reduction in resource hours for children with special needs. Mr Gallagher said that his own school, Scoil Einde, had seven RTTs to give one-to-one support to Traveller children, however that service has been removed with nothing brought in to replace it. He said nationally there had been a cut of 500 RTTs and that since a 10 per cent reduction in resource hours for special needs was introduced on September 1 there had been 800 posts lost. “It has really affected schools in Galway which have children with special needs,” said Mr Gallagher, who added that schools are only entitled to psychological assessments to see if a child is in need of resource hours, which means that many children will miss out on vital support unless private assessments are paid for at a cost of between €500 and €600.
Mr Gallagher concluded: “Our main concern is to protect what we have at the moment. We are looking for a reduction in the pupil/teacher ratio. Our argument is that no more savings can be made. We know that each Department is under pressure to make savings. The Education Department alone is charged with making €360 million in cuts. Where will the savings be made? It is the children that are suffering.”