31/07/2008 :: Northern Ireland :: The Irish News
Class sizes in Northern Ireland are now almost a third larger than in primary schools in the Republic.
Despite falling pupil numbers, teachers in the north's primaries have an average of 21 children compared to about 16 in the Republic - and the gap is widening.
New government figures show that the pupil-teacher ratio has been increasing in the north from 20 children per teacher in 2005 to 20.5 in 2006 and 20.8 last year.
Meanwhile, the north's overall pupil population has fallen every year since 2001, by a total of 18,000.
However, the teaching workforce has been declining at a faster rate, meaning class sizes continue to grow.
Unions estimate that about 600 teachers are made redundant each year and not all are being replaced.
But in the Republic, where pupil numbers have actually been rising, the pupil-teacher ratio has improved - from 17.1 to 16.6 and then 16.4 in the past three years.
The situation in the north is still slightly better than in England, where the average class size is 21.6.
Seamus Searson of the NASUWT teachers' union said staff and parents wanted smaller classes.
"With falling rolls this is a good opportunity to adjust the ratios for the benefit of pupils,'' he said.
"If you were a parent you would not want your child being lost among the crowd."