asked the Minister for Education the pupil/teacher ratio for (a) primary schools and (b) all schools, and the corresponding ratios for Northern Ireland; the number of additional teachers it would take to reduce the ratio to the levels operating in Northern Ireland; and if she will make a statement on the matter.
Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Pupil-Teacher Ratios.
The average pupil/teacher ratio in our primary schools in 1985/86, the latest year for which figures are available, was 26.9:1. The corresponding figure for Northern Ireland is 23.4:1.
It is estimated that it would require the appointment of more than 2,800 additional primary teachers, at a cost in excess of £28 million per annum at current rates, to bring the ratio into line with that obtaining in Northern Ireland.
The following are the pupil/teacher ratios which currently apply in post-primary schools: in secondary schools 20:1; teachers are allocated to VECs in respect of full-time day courses on a pupil/teacher ratio band of 17-19:1 and in community and comprehensive schools a band of 18-20:1 applies.
I understand that the pupil/teacher ratios for post-primary schools in Northern Ireland vary between 14.8 and 15.5 depending on the category of school. It is estimated that it would require the appointment of some 3,000 additional teachers, at a cost of £30 million in the first year to achieve such a ratio in our post-primary schools.
Does the Minister's information dossier disclose the number of currently unemployed primary teachers? Because we are so far behind not only in Northern Ireland but the rest of the EC in pupil/teacher ratios has the Minister any plans to improve on our disappointing and dismal pupil/teacher ratios?
I am aware, of course, that there are some unemployed teachers in Ireland. I have no immediate plans nor have my Department — of course, we wish we had — to improve the pupil/teacher ratios. It remains a very desirable objective. The Deputy compared us with other European countries. Many of those countries achieved their more favourable ratios because of a drop of pupils and students in their classrooms. In many of the countries we have studied it did not arise from a huge sudden injection of teachers into their systems but because the birth rate declined, bringing more favourable pupil/teacher ratios.
The Minister never believed it when I said it.
That is life — you are there and I am here.
Is it not a fact of life that as our class numbers here are falling teachers are being let go — that we are not taking advantage of falling numbers in our youth population to enhance our pupil/teacher ratios? Would the Minister say if she and the Government have abandoned that portion of their manifesto before the February election in which they undertook, and I quote ——
There can be no quotations at Question Time.
Is this yet another U-turn by the Government?
Absolutely not. In our development programme we said that in the long term it would remain an objective to reduce pupil/teacher ratios. The Deputy was about to read selectively from our Programme for National Recovery, not the full document, and as the Ceann Comhairle has ruled that he may not read from it, I would point out that the programme did not declare itself to be an immediate objective but as being desirable. We promised to move towards it, initially in primary schools and later in post-primary schools. That remains our programme for national recovery. There is no point in putting untruths on the record.
The Minister stated that it remained an objective. May I express the hope that it will get more attention and with better speed than the unity of the country and the restoration of the language?
I understand that Ministers can read out anything they like in the House and the Minister could have read out the whole programme and not have been afraid to do so because it is all fiction but why, when she knew the financial circumstances of the country, when it was there laid out before her on 21 January, did she proceed to put all those promises, including pupil/teacher ratios into the manifesto?
I do not know to what the Deputy is referring. What I said was that we would move to reduce the ratio, first at primary level and later at post-primary level. We will do so within our term of office because we will be here for a long, long time.
Even the Minister does not believe that.
It remains an objective. It is quite impossible for me to answer when there are constant interruptions.
Order. I am calling the next question.