Education news

Spike in pupil numbers looks set to raise class sizes

Avril Hall Callaghan, UTU General Secretary

CLASS sizes look set to soar putting "meaningful teaching and learning" out of reach for pupils, teachers have claimed.

Avril Hall Callaghan, General Secretary of the Ulster Teachers' Union was speaking as new figures from the Department of Education revealed a growth in primary school enrolments.

There were almost 347,000 pupils in all funded schools in October 2018. This has increased for the ninth successive year, and risen by almost 3,000 alone compared to last year.

Enrolments in post-primary schools increased for the second year in a row to 142,237 pupils. In primary schools, there are now 174,522 children in P1-7.

"This isn't a surprise. We have all seen the spike in pupil numbers coming since the birth rate went up a few years ago and now those children are entering the education system," Ms Hall Callaghan said.

"However, that is their misfortune as they're entering the system at the most precarious time in the history of education in a generation as it teeters on near bankruptcy with cash-strapped schools asking parents to supply basics, even down to toilet roll.

"How do the legislation makers expect meaningful teaching and learning to happen in schools which are losing resources at a rate we couldn't have imagined even 10 years ago?"

Without adequate resources to provide the education children deserve now, Ms Hall Callaghan added, how would schools deliver that to 3,000 more?

"The maths just doesn't add up. The result will be growing class sizes and this would be yet another nail in the coffin of our beleaguered education system for we already have some of the biggest in the developed world," she said.

"Many current class sizes are already completely incompatible with modern teaching and learning practice. They are short-changing children and putting intolerable burdens on teachers.

"When are we going to learn that the biggest single influence on our education system is class size – we look at countries like Finland or Sweden that are top of the educational rankings and we see they operate with much smaller class sizes."

Smaller class sizes, she added, had been shown to bring clear educational benefits for pupils. Children could have more one-to-one time with the teacher with all the benefits that brought in terms of improved pupil behaviour, educational performance and attainment.

"Teachers are already coping with growing numbers of children with increasingly complex learning and behavioural needs who might formerly have been educated in the special school sector," she said.

"Now class sizes look set to jump again. As always it will be the teachers, and ultimately the children, who will pay the price."

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