Labour councillor and Leas Cathaioirleach of Louth County Council Michelle Hall has written to Minster for Education Norma Foley to air her displeasure at the reduction in teaching staff at St Patrick’s Harestown NS in Monasterboice, describing the situation as wholly unacceptable.
As of the 2019/20 academic year, there were 197 pupils – 103 boys and 94 girls – enrolled at Harestown NS, taught by eight classroom teachers and supported by three learning support teachers and two special needs assistants. With eight classroom teachers, all classes from Junior Infants to Sixth Class were taught separately with a dedicated teacher for each class.
However, the reduction in teaching staff, based on enrolment numbers for the upcoming year, will see some classes split and taught side-by-side – meaning more pupils per classroom, despite schools now having to implement distancing measures for pupils due to Covid-19.
In her letter to Minister Foley, Cllr Hall said she was disappointed by the move to reduce teaching staff at the primary school – especially at a time she describes as “dangerous and life threatening.”
She accused the Minister of “putting lives at risk not recommending or supplying face coverings for all pupils and staff members in education” and said she had “done nothing to reduce class sizes to safe levels for physical distancing.”
In the letter, seen by LouthNow.ie, Cllr Hall wrote: “As Minister, you have now increased class sizes by not putting a temporary freeze on schools losing a teacher due to last year’s enrolment numbers.”
The Labour representative, herself a special needs assistant, said Harestown NS will now have mixed classes from Senior Infants up to third class – meaning 31 children will be spread among the five classes, with some classrooms set to see their numbers increased up up to 10 pupils. Cllr Hall says four classrooms at the Monasterboice school with 30-31 pupils in September and implored the Minister to put a temporary halt on teahcing staff reductions as schools attempt to bring pupils back to school in a safe way.
“This is wholly unacceptable for the 91 pupils attending this primary school,” she wrote. “Parents, staff and children are now extremely upset, anxious and fearful about the reopening of this school. Parents are having to think twice about whether to allow their children to return to Harestown NS, when they should be excited about getting their children back to education, and feeling secure that their health and well-being are at the centre of the Government’s plans.
“Dail Eireann, unfortunately, has decided not to do their utmost to promote health in Irish primary schools.”
Class sizes in Ireland remain well above the EU and OECD averages. The average teacher to pupil ratio in mainstream classes in Irish primary schools is currently 25 to one, with the EU average just 20. According to INTO, over 20% of classes in Louth have over 30 pupils which is above the national average.
Harestown NS was opened in 1970s – an amalgamation of the two existing schools in the Monasterboice parish – Ballymakenny and Fieldstown. A new building at the school was officially opened in 2014, as prefabs at the school were replaced by a new build including three new classrooms, learning support rooms and a general purpose PE hall.
A number of other schools in Louth – such as Dulargy NS and Rampark NS in the north of the county – are also losing teachers.