The percentage of children in primary school classes of 30 pupils or more is as follows:
The percentage of children in primary school classes of less than 20 pupils is as follows:
The statistics for the school year 2007/08 are not yet available.
There is evidence of a reduction in the range of class sizes with proportionately fewer pupils in very large and very small classes. However, the overall average class size remains constant at 24.1 in 2005/06 and 2006/07.
Schools have flexibility in the way in which they assign pupils and teachers to classes and the Department does not allocate teachers to specific classes or age groups. Posts allocated on the basis of this staffing schedule are specifically for mainstream classes and should be deployed accordingly. School authorities are requested to ensure that the number of pupils in any class is kept as low as possible, taking all relevant contextual factors into account (e.g. classroom accommodation, fluctuating enrolment). In particular, school authorities should ensure that there is an equitable distribution of pupils in mainstream classes and that the differential between the largest and smallest classes is kept to a minimum.
As the Deputy will be aware, major improvements have been made in staffing at primary level in recent years. There are now in the region of 6,000 more primary teachers than there were in 2002. By the 2006/07 school year, we had reduced the average class size in our primary schools to 24, while the pupil teacher ratio was 16.4:1, including resource teachers etc. In that year, schools were staffed on the basis of a general rule of at least one classroom teacher for every 28 children. Given that the national average was 24, many schools benefited from much more favourable staffing ratios than this.
Extra teachers were provided by the Government for the 2007/08 school year to improve primary school staffing so that schools would generally get at least one classroom teacher for every 27 children.
I would like to point out that the Government has made provision for approximately 1,200 extra primary and post-primary teachers to be appointed in the next school year.
The Deputy will be aware that Budget 2008 provided €4.6 billion or €380 million extra for teacher pay and pensions. This is a very substantial level of additional investment in the current economic environment and reflects the huge improvements that have been made in school staffing in recent years.
The Programme for Government contains a commitment to provide 4,000 additional primary teachers between 2007 and 2012. With the extra teachers already put in place this year and those provided for in the Budget, we are ahead of target with about 2,000 extra primary teachers to be delivered within just two years.
As I have said on many occasions in the past, high quality teachers are by far the most important ingredient in our education system.
Over the lifetime of the Government, we are committed to providing more primary school teachers specifically to reduce class sizes. We will also continue our focus on measures to improve the quality of education in our primary schools to ensure that increased resources lead to better outcomes for our children.