ALMOST one in eight primary school pupils in Ireland was in oversized classes last year, even though average class sizes have fallen to their lowest level in two decades.
Enrollment figures for more than 3,100 elementary schools across the country released by the Department of Education show that one in three — 1,055 in all — had at least one class overfilled.
The numbers come as elementary schools across the country prepare to welcome students back into classrooms after the summer break.
An analysis of the numbers by the Irish Independent shows that only 17 per cent of primary school children were in grades below the EU average of 20.
One in 20 (5 percent) of all classrooms had more than 30 students, but they made up 12 percent of all elementary school children, figures from the Department of Education for 2021-22 show.
More than 66,000 children out of nearly 537,400 primary school children found themselves in overcrowded classrooms. Among them were around 2,750 students who were in classes of 35 or more students.
However, there has been a strong downward trend in totals in very large classes over the last 20 years.
In 2001, 27 percent of elementary school students—more than one in four—were in classes of 30 or more students.
Last school year, more than 12,000 fewer students were in oversized classes than in the 2020-21 school year.
The government has committed to reducing class sizes and the average now stands at 22.8 pupils – the lowest this century but still the highest in the EU.
Of the 1,055 schools with at least one classroom of 30 or more students, there were 65 that had at least one class of 35 or more students.
The prevalence of large classes is more pronounced in Gaelscoileanna (Irish language schools) outside the Gaeltacht areas, where 20 per cent of pupils are in oversized classes, compared with 13 per cent in schools where English is the main language of instruction.
There are 97 schools where more than half of the students sat in crowded classrooms.
The Secretary-General of the Irish National Teachers Organization, John Boyle, said it was “a great disgrace” that so many pupils are still sitting in overcrowded classrooms.
Mr Boyle described the situation as “an ongoing national embarrassment”.
“Unless addressed quickly, it will remain a major impediment to the post-pandemic recovery required in primary education,” he added.
Mr Boyle recalled that more than 20 years ago, then Minister of Education and current Taoiseach Micheál Martin stated that “there is no place in a modern education system for overcrowded classes”.
The Department of Education said there was a commitment to make further progress on reducing student-teacher ratios in primary schools, with 350 new regular apprenticeships being approved for the coming school year.
A spokesman said the primary school staffing plan, which determines the distribution of teacher numbers, has been improved in both households over the past two years.
The total allocation of teachers to a school is a different measure than the figure used to determine average class size, as some teachers are appointed to specialist roles rather than mainstream classes.
More favorable allocations to the municipal Deis schools allow one teacher for every 18 students in elementary schools and for every 22 students in high schools.
Figures show that Deis schools located in disadvantaged areas have smaller classes on average, with just 1 percent of students in Deis Urban 1 Band schools in overcrowded classrooms compared to 13 percent in non-Deis schools .
Figures show that the country’s largest primary school is St Mary’s Parish Primary School in Drogheda, Co Louth, which had 1,065 students enrolled in 40 classrooms.
Overcrowded classes are no problem for Ireland’s smallest school – Ballyfad National School in Ballyfad, Co. Wexford – which had a single pupil in its final year.
How the table was compiled
Class size figures are from the 2021-2022 National School Annual Census, which is completed by each school.
The figures refer only to normal mainstream classes in mainstream primary schools. Pupils who are taught in special school classes and who can sometimes be integrated into mainstream classes are not included.
Private (fee-based) elementary schools are not included in the list.
Many schools may also be known by different names, often their official title being in Irish, which would not be in common use.
For example, the local primary school in Ballyporeen, Co. Tipperary is officially known as Scoil Teampall Toinne but is listed in our database under its other common name – Ballyporeen National School.
Due to space limitations, we have used only one version of the school name along with location information.
People should search for their local school by either the school name (Irish or English version) or the area in which it is located.
https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/education/revealed-our-most-crowded-primary-school-classrooms-41943708.html Revealed: Our most crowded elementary school classrooms