Primary School Overcrowding

Things Have Not Gotten Better For School Children in Wicklow:

The disconcerting findings of a recent report confirm not only that Wicklow primary school overcrowding outstrips the national average, but also ranks joint highest nationally in terms of super size classrooms. The Irish National Teachers Organisation (INTO) report confirms parents’ fears – Wicklow is now the most affected area in terms of primary school overcrowding nationwide for the longest period of time in recent years.

The general picture for Ireland is just as daunting. Nationally, 1 in 4 primary school children are now in ‘super – size’ classes of 30 or more pupils. That’s the second highest occurrence in Europe.

Results like these have consequences: INTO warn that progress on literacy and numeracy has been hampered by large classes and, unsurprisingly, a lack of adequate teaching materials. Literacy may be something many of us take for granted – if you’re reading this it might surprise you to learn that 1 in 6 Irish adults have difficulty understanding basic written text. That’s according to a recent survey carried out by the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD). On numeracy the OECD research found that 1 in 4 Irish adults rank below ‘level 1’. On adult literacy and numeracy Ireland ranks 15th and 19th place respectively out of 24 participating countries internationally.

So it’s clear then. There’s a pattern. Large classes constrain our children’s education and can, if left unchecked, deprive them of literacy and numeracy. In Ireland our adult literacy and numeracy levels are poor enough as it is; increased class sizes are only going to compound the problem.

Is anyone listening? What is going to be done about this?

Will our Government tackle this time bomb? They too are aware of these figures. Unfortunately it doesn’t look like they’re in a rush to do anything about the issue – recently Jan O’Sullivan, the new Education Minister, has been making sounds suggesting resources do not exist to tackle the underlying issue of primary school overcrowding in budget 2015.

What does this mean for Wicklow? Comparing the stark findings on supersize classrooms in the latest report with last year’s INTO figures it is quite noticeable that Limerick (which previously shared the shameful ‘highest ranking’ position with Wicklow) has reversed its fortunes. Limerick schoolchildren are now much less likely to find themselves in 30+ classrooms. The trend for Wicklow has not been so favorable – our school children once again ‘top the poll’ in terms of supersize classrooms.

Not only are our classrooms too large, there aren’t enough school places in the first place.

In the north of the county both Bray and Greystones are experiencing population growth. More people means more children. More children – should – mean more school places. In Kilcoole the network of junior infant classrooms has been stretched to absolute capacity in recent years. This is by no means a new problem. It’s plain to see there aren’t enough places or schools. Yet, the response has been nothing more than repeated temporary measures in the form of a last minute allocation of an additional teacher in the case of Kilcoole Primary School. This ‘kick the can down the road’ approach only serves to mask the underlying problem for years to come.

The ridiculous thing is that elsewhere the ‘allocation of resources’ has thrown up a scenario in Dublin where a school (Scoile Aoife Community National School) opened its gates three weeks ago with just one pupil enrolled. The department of education have attempted to justify the now 6 pupil school by stating that its opening meets a demographic ‘need’.

What about Wicklow’s demographic ‘need’? How does the Government propose to meet it – By squeezing 5,000 children into overcrowded ‘super-sized’ classrooms?

Planning (or the lack of it) is also to blame. In Greystones, the Charlesland community badly need a primary school for their children. How a house was ever sold without guarantees that schools were going to be built is beyond comprehension – it should never happen again. Our county council has an obligation to consider education as well as housing when it comes to planning decisions. In a county where demand exists, and where families are generally paying above the national local property tax rate, it is fundamentally flawed that Government TD’s and Councillors fail to spot and address the issue appropriately.

Investment and spending are crucial. The budget for 2015 will be announced within weeks. There are 3 Government TD’s in Wicklow – one is a minister in the Department of Finance.

So who’s going to do something about Wicklow’s ‘needs’? What is required is less talk and alot more action, and fast.

There is a silver lining for the children of Wicklow. INTO have launched a pre-budget ‘Room To Bloom’ lobbying campaign to protect primary education in budget 2015. Sitting on INTO’s website is a pre-written email outlining the need for confronting the issue of primary school overcrowding here in Wicklow. Every parent and concerned citizen has the opportunity to have their voice heard. With literally one click you can send your concerns directly to all five Wicklow TD’s rather than listening to fruitless promises.

If Government Ministers can only talk, and TD’s repeatedly fail to grasp the initiative then community action must intervene. This is crucial for the children of Wicklow who are otherwise left voiceless. Our children are our future – their education should be prioritized accordingly.

If you would like a direct link to join the I.N.T.O ‘Room To Bloom Campaign’ visit: JamesDoyle.ie

September, 2014, Greystones Guide

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