Cutting class size will not benefit students [] - report

Cutting class size will not benefit students - report

Irish Independent - March 9th
SEÁN FLYNN, Education Editor

CUTTING CLASS size in schools will not deliver better results for students, according to a major advisory report to Government on education and training.

The report also backs graduate taxes, but says efforts to address the funding crisis at third level may not require the return of upfront college fees.

The National Competitiveness Council report ; to be published today ; says investment in computers and in-service teacher training would be more valuable than "expensive" moves to cut class size.

The report is critical of demands for more resources for education. "Reducing class size is expensive and an excessive focus on this area can deflect scarce resources from providing schools with better school buildings, science labs, adequate computers and sports facilities," it says.

The report got an angry response from the INTO, whose campaign against the recent increases in class size attracted widespread public support.

But it will be welcomed by Minister for Education, Batt O'Keeffe. Class size in primary schools was increased from 27 to 28 in the budget, a move that will yield substantial savings for the exchequer. The report backs the introduction of a graduate tax to help fund higher education. It is "appropriate and equitable that graduates, who will benefit from . . . increased earnings should contribute a portion of the cost of their education," it says.

It says the current arrangement, whereby colleges are largely dependent on exchequer funding is not sustainable. While it does not back the return of fees, it says graduate taxes and student loans linked to income have been successfully adopted in other countries. It says overall assets should be included in assessing eligibility for student grants. The current system, it says, is inequitable.

The report makes a series of other recommendations including;

-The introduction of bonus CAO points for maths;

- New efforts to ensure students are rewarded for taking higher level maths in the Leaving Cert;

- More effective use and application of information technology in schools;

- The establishment of an effective and high-quality system of pre-primary education;

- The need to recognise outstanding teachers and reward them through the promotion system;

- New moves to empower school principals to be education leaders in their schools supported by effective middle management structures.

The competitiveness council quotes various academic studies to justify its position on class size. But the INTO's general secretary, John Carr, accused it of presenting a misleading picture.

"The INTO has consistently argued for smaller classes for younger children because it pays dividends. Claiming that class sizes have moved towards OECD and EU averages is straight out of the Ryanair school of spin."

In his foreword, competitiveness council chairman Dr Don Thornhill says outstanding Irish teachers have helped to deliver a strong educational system with relatively modest resources. He says the downturn means "the way in which resources are used can be just as important as the overall levels of funding''.

Other members of the council include Donal Byrne, chairman of Cadbury Schweppes Ireland; Brendan Butler of Ibec; William Prasifka of the Competition Authority; Martin Cronin of Forfás; Annette Hughes of DKM consultants and Ferdinand von Prondzynski, DCU president.

On third level, the report says colleges should avoid duplication of programmes. Co-operation and amalgamation is important, it says, for achieving critical mass in research.

This article appears in the print edition of the Irish Times


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