23 March 2005 Edition

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Government must fulfil promise to reduce class sizes

Sinn Féin Dáil leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin has said the Fianna Fáil/Progressive Democrats Government has failed to fulfil its promise to reduce class sizes at primary level to under 20. Highlighting the fact that the 26-County state has the second highest average class size in the EU, Ó Caoláin called on the government to create more teaching posts at primary level this year in order to reduce class sizes and "give every child in every school equal rights and equal opportunities".

Ó Caoláin raised the demand for class size reduction with the Tánaiste Mary Harney in the Dáil on Tuesday, as the Irish National Teachers Organisation launched a campaign in pursuit of this goal.

Ó Caoláin stated: "This morning, with other TDs and councillors, I visited a primary school in my own constituency — Urbleshanny National School in Scotstown, County Monaghan — where six of the classes have in excess of 30 pupils in them. In sixth class, the pre-secondary year, there are 36 children in a former general purposes room. These are the conditions in which so many of our children are trying to learn in our so-called knowledge economy.

"The single greatest difficulty pupils and teachers will face once again in the coming school year of 2005/'06 will be unacceptably high class sizes. In the 2002 Agreed Programme for Government between Fianna Fáil and the PDs, they committed to reduce class sizes to below the international best practice guideline of 20 to 1. The current number is 24 to 1 but in many schools it is much higher. For example, I want the Tánaiste to tell us if the PD candidates in the Meath and Kildare by-elections reported back to her that in those counties' class sizes are much higher than the average, at 26 and 27.

"In this week we recall that the Easter 1916 Proclamation guaranteed 'equal rights and equal opportunities' and that is what every pupil in every school is entitled to.

"The government must now act decisively to reduce class sizes in real terms for the coming school year. They should commence now to lift the embargo on the creation of new posts and recruit the additional teachers that are essential, including the 650 extra teachers for learning support and for children with special needs. The INTO estimates that there are 1,000 trained primary teachers available now to fill the places if they are created."

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