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Sunday 26 January 2020

Pupils losing out as schools call on minister to sort out overcrowding

Teacher Sinead Gilheaney with her third class pupils in Our Lady Immaculate Senior National School in Darndale. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Teacher Sinead Gilheaney with her third class pupils in Our Lady Immaculate Senior National School in Darndale. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Education Minister Joe McHugh. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins

A school in Dublin has two of the most overcrowded classes in the country, it has emerged.

At 34 and 29 pupils each, they can be found in one of the most disadvantaged communities of the capital, which has seen students have to walk past two murder scenes in one year.

Pupils in the two third classes at Our Lady Immaculate Senior National School, Darndale, are paying a heavy price for Department of Education rules.

Principal Derry Amphlett said there were normally three classes of about 22 pupils but because enrolments were down slightly in 2018/19, they lost a teacher for 2019/20.

Enrolments

The department bases teacher allocations on the previous year's enrolments.

The super-sized classes are well above the national average of 24, and at odds with official policy to maintain smaller classes in schools serving disadvantaged areas.

In an added irony, it means that teachers cannot engage with literacy and numeracy programmes specially devised to support pupils in DEIS schools.

"These programmes require very intensive work with small groups," said Mr Amphlett. "We have two very skilled teachers, but it is simply not feasible."

On top of the usual challenges associated with raising educational achievement levels in areas of socio-economic disadvantage, pupils are also dealing with the added trauma of a very serious drugs feud affecting the neighbourhood.

"Last year pupils had to walk past two murder scenes," Mr Amphlett added.

"This impacts seriously on their well-being and teachers try to address it as best they can, but the numbers don't allow teachers to provide the level of care they would like to provide."

Parents, pupils and schools are piling pressure on Education Minister Joe McHugh to cut class sizes in the most disadvantaged communities when he announces teacher allocations for September 2020 in January.

Decisions on pupil-teacher ratios are normally the preserve of a budget.

However, there was disappointment when there was no concession made in October for the 231 primary schools serving the most severely socio-economic disadvantaged areas.

Now, the Irish National Teachers' Organisation (Into) has said the minister has an opportunity to introduce improvements when staffing allocations for 2020/2021 are announced in the new year.

In the past week, an INTO-inspired campaign has seen the minister bombarded with emails demanding smaller classes. Today, the union will also hand printouts of the emails to one of Mr McHugh's senior aides.

The 231 schools are in band one of the Department of Education's DEIS scheme.

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