Primary Education – we can do better

Joe McKeown, INTO President

The pandemic exposed a decade of neglect in primary and special schools and as we move to recover from Covid-19, it’s imperative we do better. Budget 2022 needs to deliver for primary education.

Irish primary class sizes remain the largest in the European Union. Too many pupils still learn in a classroom of 30 or more pupils, with one in five pupils nationally learning in such crowded environments.

At the height of the pandemic, Ireland was the only EU country that had to plan for social distancing in supersized classes of thirty or more.

Research shows that smaller classes enable teachers to give adequate and necessary time to each child in the classroom, which has a positive impact on learning outcomes.

Principals must be supported in their efforts to lead teaching and learning in our schools whilst they simultaneously carry out the range of administrative tasks assigned to the role.

No school in the country would have been able to open during the pandemic without the incredibly hard work of school leaders.

Middle management posts allow schools to coordinate curriculum and school development and to facilitate a range of initiatives that provide a holistic education, including leading wellbeing initiatives in school, supporting special education and inclusion, coordinating digital learning and delivering environmental and physical education programmes.

Teaching principals essentially do two jobs. They teach their class and must manage their entire school. It’s a very difficult juggling act. During the pandemic, the government finally listened to calls from this union and provided for one day a week release from teaching duties to enable these principals to lead and manage their schools.

It’s 2021, and primary schools still have to fundraise to cover basic expenses. It is simply not good enough that the parents of Ireland have to contribute nearly €50 million every year to keep primary schools afloat.

As we move out of the pandemic, we need to invest in our primary schools as they play their role in the great national effort supporting their pupils, some of whom have sadly fallen behind.