Short term thinking in Education

It’s been a strange week or so of announcements in Irish education. We had the uncosted Junior Cycle reform framework (see my previous post), then we had the leak of news that 2,000 teaching posts are to be lost from Irish schools. The teachers unions reacted to the news with horror. ASTI, TUI and INTO reactions are here.

It’s important to point out the implication of a change to the pupil teacher ratio. Despite the view that it’ll be no big deal because it’s ‘only one more kid in a classroom’, the PTR is used for calculating the number of teachers in a school. So, in a 500 student school, when the PTR is 19:1, the school can employ 26.32 teachers. (Yes, .32 teachers, they call them ‘teacher equivalents’, they don’t have to be a whole job). When the same school has a PTR of 20:1, the school can employ 25 teachers. That’s a drop of 1.32 or about 29 hours of teaching time. That’s a whole week gone from a timetable. So you lose all the work done during a week by those teachers. What schools then have to ask is what will we cut? What subject will die? Which ones are the most marginal? It depends on the school, but the subjects on the margins are often the ones that define a school, Physics, Chemistry, Accountancy, Economics, Music, Spanish, Applied Maths, and dividing a group into higher and ordinary levels.

And then we had this announcement on capital spending from the DES. It tells us that the number of students will rise through to 2024 in Secondary Schools and that a primary concern will be to provide every one of those students with a place in a school. That’s a fine sentiment, just don’t expect there to be the subject choice or comfort to learn students enjoyed up until recent years when education spending became just another budget cut instead of a means to enrich our society for a new generation.

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