Dáil Éireann - Volume 614 - 08 February, 2006
Written Answers. - Pupil-Teacher Ratio.
Mr. P. McGrath Mr. P. McGrath
334. Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for Education and Science the average class size and the pupil teacher ratio in primary schools in Westmeath in each of the past five years. [4635/06]
Mr. P. McGrath Mr. P. McGrath
335. Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for Education and Science the average class size and pupil-teacher ratio in primary schools in Longford in each of the past five years. [4636/06]
Ms Hanafin Ms Hanafin
Ms Hanafin: I propose to take Questions Nos. 334 and 335 together.
The most recent data on average class size in primary schools in County Longford are as follows: year average class size — 2000-01, 21.1; 2001-02, 21.4; 2002-03, 20.9; 2003-04, 21.0; and 2004-05, 21.5. The average class size in Longford is substantially lower than the national average of 24.
The most recent data on average class size in primary schools in County Westmeath are as follows: year average class size — 2000-01, 24.4; 2001-02, 24.4; 2002-03, 23.9; 2003-04, 24.1 and 2004-05, 23.9. The average class in Westmeath is therefore in line with the national average of 24.
The information on the pupil-teacher ratio is not available in my Department on a county basis.
Major improvements in school staffing have been made in recent years with the hiring of more than 5,000 additional primary teachers. This represents the largest increase in teacher numbers since the expansion of free education. Today there is one teacher for every 17 children, the  lowest pupil teacher ratio in the history of the State.
Aside from decreasing average class size, the unprecedented increase in school staffing in recent years has also greatly improved the services provided for children with special needs and those from disadvantaged areas. Under the action plan for tackling disadvantage published in 2005, there will be a reduction in class sizes of 24:1 at senior level and 20:1 at junior level in 150 primary schools serving communities with the highest concentrations of disadvantage. With more than 600 extra resource teachers put in place this term, children with special needs are getting more support than ever before. It should be acknowledged how much progress has been made in this area in recent years.
Recently I announced that I have secured sufficient funding to provide even smaller classes in our primary schools in the next school year, and the Minister for Finance has committed to a further reduction in class size in the following year. Accordingly, over the next two years, my Department will put 500 extra teachers into primary schools to reduce class size and to tackle disadvantage.
The staffing of a primary school is determined by reference to the enrolment of the school on 30 September of the previous school year. The number of mainstream posts sanctioned is determined by reference to a staffing schedule which is issued annually to all primary schools.
The general rule is that the schedule provides at least one classroom teacher for every 29 pupils in the school. Schools with only one or two teachers have much lower staffing ratios than those with two teachers for just 12 pupils in some cases and so on but the general rule is that there is at least one classroom teacher for every 29 children in the school. Next year this is being reduced to 28 children per classroom teacher and in 2007-08 it will be reduced to 27 children per classroom teacher. Officials of my Department are drawing up the revised staffing schedule necessary to achieve this. Schools will be asked to use the extra class teachers provided as a result of the revised schedule to provide for smaller classes in the junior grades.
We have consistently said that priority would be given in the first instance to children in disadvantaged schools and those with special needs. We have done this and now, in line with the Government commitment, mainstream class sizes are also being reduced.
Dáil Éireann 614 Written Answers. Pupil-Teacher Ratio.