In the very short time available to me, I will concentrate on primary education. Young people get one chance at primary education. They can re-sit their leaving certificate and do secondary education as part of a second chance programme or as a mature student. Third level is similar but they get only one chance at primary education. That is why it is vitally important that students get a good grounding and support at primary level. Primary education is the basis for all further learning and education. Every euro invested in primary education is invested in students and their future and will stand to them through the rest of their lives. Ensuring that every student is supported to reach his or her potential in primary school has lifelong benefits for employment and health prospects. Unfortunately, budget 2017 has failed primary education. There was no improvement in class sizes.
There is an average number of 25 pupils in our classes, as opposed to the EU average of 20. We have the second most overcrowded classrooms in Europe. Indeed, 100,000 of our children are being taught in classes with more than 30 students. Those students, in particular, have been abandoned by this Government. I remind the Minister that, despite the commitment in the programme for Government, the budget has failed to change class sizes for the better. All research shows that smaller classes work well for children and that no class should have more than 20 students.
Time and again, we are told that we have free education. The reality, of course, is very different. The failure to increase the daily funding for primary schools will leave them dependent on voluntary fundraising and parents’ contributions. The Government’s funding of 92 cent per pupil per day does not cover the basic running costs and puts huge stress on parents and principals, with them having to run quizzes, cake sales, church gate collections and race nights. This budget should have restored the pre-cut rate of €200 for capitation at the very least. That would have been a first step.
The budget does not deal with the restoration of lost posts, increased release time for teaching principals or parity of pay. Special needs children also do not appear to have been a priority in the budget. They still wait far too long for assessments. In fact, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul has had to pay for these assessments on numerous occasions. The failure to fund and support primary schools properly is very short-sighted and must be reversed immediately.