The loss of two teachers at Rampark NS in Jenkinstown, due to a slight drop in pupil numbers, could be “easily solved” in the upcoming Budget, the General Secretary of INTO has said.
Speaking on Wednesday, John Boyle said the current situation where a school can lose a teacher one year only to get that teacher back twelve months later should its attendance increase slightly was a “ridiculous scenario.”
Fianna Fáil councillor for Dundalk-Carlingford Andrea McKevitt tabled a motion at Tuesday’s Dundalk Municipal District meeting calling on Louth County Council to write to Minister for Education Norma Foley, on behalf of the Municipal District, asking her to reverse the decision of the Department of Education to reduce the number of teaching posts at Rampark NS by two fulltime staff.
Speaking during the meeting, Cllr McKevitt said; ” The current situation beggars beliefs in this pandemic, where there is one classroom completely out of use and the pupil to teacher ratio is 32:1 – well above the recommended national average of 26.
“In recent days, I have spoken with parents who have children in these over populated classrooms and they are genuinely worried and concerned about the crowded environment. The overruling of this decision by the Department would reduce class sizes and be much safer for all parties concerned.”
As of the 2019/2020 academic year, the co-educational primary school had 170 pupils and seven mainstream classroom teachers, as well as two Special Education Teachers and one Special Needs Assistant. Having lost two teaching posts, there are now just five teachers at the school.
Despite the necessity for schools to implement social distancing guidelines as schools reopen this month, the reduction in teaching staff has left one classroom in the school empty.
Current school principal Joan O’Hanlon will retire from her position on October 5, after overseeing the beginning of the new school year with all of the current Covid-19 related restrictions and guidelines having to first be overseen. Local woman Julie Carolan, who has been with the school since 2005 and has been Deputy Principal since 2016, will succeed her as principal.
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.
In the last 10 years, there have been two considerable upgrades to the school building – including two new classrooms and a resource room as numbers attending have risen steadily in recent times.
During Wednesday’s Special Committee on Covid-19 Response, Louth TD Fergus O’Dowd raised the issue with INTO President Mary Magner and General Secretary John Boyle. He said the school seen an “unacceptable increase in the number of students in some classes.”
Ms Magner told the Deputy that the class sizes must be reduced while Mr Boyle said the issue could easily be addressed in the budget.
“This situation has only arisen because of the blunt instrument of the staffing schedule for primary schools. Under this schedule, one becomes a walking principal when the school gains four children,” he said. “If the school then loses some of these children, it not only could end up losing its administrative deputy principal, who had been given 183 days to administer the school but will now only have 37, but it also suffers the double penalty of losing an additional classroom teacher.
“That could be very easily addressed in the budget. If this was to be part of budget considerations in this pandemic year, it could be backdated to this September with an appeals mechanism to allow such schools to not lose their teachers immediately.
“We now see the ridiculous scenario in which some of those schools that will lose a teacher in September 2020 will get that teacher, or even two teachers, back the following year if its enrolment increases. The Deputy’s Government can certainly address this issue. It is something for which we have been calling for many years.”
Deputy O’Dowd said the unions had to be more assertive. “When I try to address this issue through the official channels – I am talking about civil servants – I cannot get anybody to listen.
“I have found it very hard to get officials to listen to some of these complaints, which are genuine and heartfelt. The children in the schools where this is happening are being penalised.”