WITH the government likely to slash millions from the educational budget again, fears have been expressed at the safety of youngsters in the classroom.
More than 300 teachers and parents from across Limerick were at the South Court Hotel for an event organised by the Irish National Teachers Organisation (INTO) which is fighting against further rises in class sizes.
It comes as new figures reveal that 90% of pupils in Limerick city and county are in classes of 20 or more - with 5,700 in classes of 30 and upwards.
The meeting provided an opportunity for the local TDs who attended, Dan Neville, Niall Collins and Kieran O’Donnell to hear the views of those affected the most by the raising of class sizes.
With class sizes in some cases rising to as many as 33 students in some cases, Sinead Moore of Killinure School, near Boher, said many practical fears come into play.
These, she said include their safety should a fire break out, or small groups of children bullying others while a teacher is concentrating on another group.
“You cannot be in 100 places at once. I don’t care what it costs: the safety of our children is the most important thing of all,” she said.
The growth in class sizes impacts on schools in rural areas, with parents moving away from some areas, because they do not want their children in “supersized” classrooms with those of all ages.
Sandra Ni Chiosog, the principal of Caherconlish National School said: “Schools like mine are being forced into multiple split class situations to fit the growing population. Parents are moving with their children because they don’t want to find them in multiple-split classes.”
She also said parents are often moving from small areas due to fears of a school closures with dwindling numbers.
Dooradoyle teacher Margaret Bernard, who sits on the INTO central council, said in smaller areas, the loss of even a handful of children needs to be heavily overcompensated.
“If your school is losing four children, you need to have at least seven children coming in. In very small isolated areas, this is a big ask: you are not going to have seven babies born a year here,” she explained. And if families do choose to leave an area, this presents challenges to youngsters.
Ms Bernard - a teacher at St Paul’s National School - added: “Children brought out of a home area to a different school are not going to make friends, they will not be playing with their local team. There are so many knock-on effects here.”
Fr Tony O’Riordan, who chairs the Board of Management at Corpus Christi School, Moyross, said future generations - and possibly leaders of the country - are being put at a massive disadvantage.
“What I find astounding is the slip in our moral standards as a society and a country. That we would say it is okay to negatively impact on the education of our children. That this moral principle can seem to be elastic is devastating for our society,” he said.
Fr O’Riordan added that if Ireland’s economic recovery is based on this, it is not worthy.
“It will be an economic recovery based on a very weak morality, and it was a weak morality which got us here in the first place,” he added.
Eleanor McSherry, who set up the Mid-West Special Needs Parents Association, highlighted the importance of Special Needs Assistants (SNAs), which have been cut back since the recession began.
Her son, now sitting his leaving certificate, benefitted from the extra help provided in class.
But she said it has always been a fight to maintain the hours.
On the occasion the service was reduced, she said: “He hid underneath the chairs, he started self-harming, and ended up on suicide watch before the hours were restored to him. No parent wants to watch their 13-year-old son hitting himself on the head and trying to stab himself.”
Instead of cutting the budget to national schools, the INTO wants the government to push for stronger taxation measures on high earners, as well as an increase in Capital Gains Tax. They will be demonstrating outside the Department of Education and Skills in Marlborough Street, Dublin, at 3.30pm next Wednesday, October 2.