Wednesday, 10 December 2008
Dáil Eireann Debate
219. Deputy Jack Wall asked the Minister for Education and Science his views on correspondence from a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45568/08]
Minister for Education and Science (Deputy Batt O’Keeffe): I am aware of the concerns raised by the school referred to by the Deputy. However we are dealing with an economic situation of unprecedented difficulty. The Government has a collective duty to respond to this and to take very difficult decisions in the national interest.
In doing this we have attempted to afford some shelter to the education sector but given the scale of public expenditure on education it is simply not possible to avoid tough decisions. I fully accept that these decisions are not of themselves desirable and that they can only be justified by the imperative of securing the future economic stability of the country. I have called for co-operation from all the education partners in meeting the challenges facing us both as an education community and as a country.
When the country was able to afford it we reduced the basis on which primary teachers are allocated to schools from being based on an average number of primary pupils per teacher from 35 pupils in 1995/96 down to the current level of 27 pupils. This is reflected in the improvements that we have made on class sizes over the years and these improvements reflect our commitment to education. The change to a new average of 28 pupils per teacher from September 2009 has to be viewed in that context. Although it reverses some of the progress that we have made in recent years I had no option but to curtail the annual increase in teacher numbers. The reduced class sizes for the most disadvantaged in our DEIS schools of an average of 1 teacher for every 20 pupils in Junior classes and an average of 1 teacher for every 24 pupils in Senior classes will not be changing in 2009.
While the budget measures will impact on class sizes it will be necessary in the more testing economic climate ahead for us to continue to target and prioritise our resources to maximum effect for everyone. While teacher numbers are important numerous influential reports have highlighted the fact that teacher quality is the single most important factor — far and above anything else — in improving educational outcomes for children. Ensuring high quality teaching and learning is a challenge and dealing with factors that inhibit it represent a challenge for the Government, the Department, school management and indeed the teacher unions.
I am confident that as the global economy improves it will be possible to build again on the significant achievements of recent years and do so in a manner consistent with overall prudent management of the Irish economy.
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