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Class sizes must be treated as an emergency – Ferris

27 May, 2008

Speaking in the Dáil this evening on a Private Members' Motion on class sizes Sinn Féin TD Martin Ferris said the Government needs to treat the issue of class sizes as an emergency. Deputy Ferris questioned whether Fianna Fáil was ever committed to its pre-election manifesto commitment to reducing class sizes.

He said, "Sinn Féin has been making the call to drastically reduce class sizes for over six years, because we believe that the positive benefits of smaller classes make them an absolute necessity and more conducive to both teaching and learning.

"Despite Government commitments to reduce class sizes, over a quarter of all pupils in primary school are in classes of greater than 30 and this state has the second largest class sizes at primary level in the EU.

"My colleague Deputy Morgan recently asked the former Minister for Education the number of additional teachers which would need to be employed in order to ensure that class sizes are reduced by one in primary schools in the 2008/2009 school year; and the costs associated with such. Her response was that such information is not available, in other words she did not know.

"This to me is just not good enough. Not only has the Government promised this in its programme for Government but it was also a major commitment in Fianna Fáil's pre general election manifesto. I would question whether or not Fianna Fáil was ever actually serious about this commitment as it seems that it was more concerned about quelling the anger of the thousands of parents, teachers and children who lined the streets before the general election. It is for this reason that we are debating this motion tonight and that this long list of schools look set to lose their teachers.

"This is a crisis. With primary school pupil figures expected to climb to 500,000 by the end of 2009 the Government needs to treat the issue of class sizes as an emergency. The current scenario of children being taught permanently in prefabs taking up school yard space, run-down damp classrooms, converted toilets, in PE halls or having to travel miles away to a school with space is completely unacceptable.

"Indeed in another recent question submitted by Sinn Féin, asking the former Minister for Education and Science Mary Hanafin how many schools are currently using prefabs, her response was, again that she did not know. With the Minister not even aware of how many schools are using these run down oversized shoe boxes, how can the Government even attempt to solve this problem?

"However the Government must address this central issue and prioritise children and education. Our children are our future and we must cherish all of them equally and give them the education that they deserve." ENDS

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