The Poorer Relation

Education in Ireland has had a few rough years.

There are a number of issues to contend with:

  • Large Class Sizes
  • Historical underspend in infrastructure
  • General poor funding of the education sector
  • Political ill-will towards teachers and our unions
  • Poor relationship between the Department of Education and stakeholders in general

There are, of course, many more issues that would raise the blood pressure of the very many of us who care about how education happens in this country.

A key issue – a measurable issue, is the financial value that the State puts on the Education Sector. On this measure alone, we can see that the Government, the Minister, and thus, the Department, severely undervalue education.

The World Bank shows that, of the OECD countries, Ireland spent 3.5% on education in 2017. The same year Norway spent 7.9%, while Sweden spent 7.6%. The OECD average that year being 5%. (Source here)

The evidence of this lack of funding is everywhere. We have numerous schools where classes are in permanent prefabs; we have chronic underfunding of initiatives; we have higher class sizes than most other European Countries. The chart below from the C.S.O shows that, in 2016, there were 22 European countries with smaller class sizes than us at Primary level. At Upper Secondary level that number rises to 30.


30 countries in Europe have smaller classes at second level than us. (CSO Data page here)

This is all happening in the context of rising numbers of students each year. Our schools are bursting at the seams, and any chance of expanding buildings or opening new schools are tied up in labyrinthine paperwork and applications.

And yet despite all of this chronic underfunding, our students still manage to do well on standardised tests. (Not a fair metric, but they do have the advantage of being measurable)

To be clear, this success at tests has happened despite the chronic underfunding. In Ireland teachers have regularly filled the gaps and put in that extra effort to help their students. What the chart above does not reflect is the level of pastoral care provided in our schools. The time spent in relationship building, the voluntary out-of-school activities that take place, the school shows, the matches, the tours.

A friend of mine now teaches in Ireland after a number of years teaching in the UK. One of his earlier impressions was just how little funding there is in schools. We are all familiar with the Windows 7 machines being held together with good will and wishful thinking. This is not sustainable.

As the population grows we need to look at how to fund education properly. There are a few aspects that need to be fixed:

  • The abhorrent two-tier pay system whereby anyone employed after 2011 is automatically on an inferior pay-scale
  • The cuts to capitation that have never returned to pre-recession levels
  • Proper infrastructure funding – buildings, broadband, computers

With regard to the last point, yesterday’s announcement by the minister for a further investment of €200 million for ICT between now and 2027 is ambiguous. Is that ‘further investment’ simply picking up where the last round of funding ended. In which case the €200 million will work out as an annual reduction on ICT spend.

Unfortunately, despite my wishful thinking, I believe that the current government has no intention of fixing any of these issues as they do not want to put any more money into our schools.

So yes. We have had a rough few years, but they are likely to continue for a while yet.

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