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Government says over 41,000 places available for Ukrainian students in Irish schools

Sources have conceded that reaching these figures would put a strain on the education system

Education Minister Norma Foley. Picture by Frank McGrath

Wayne O'Connor

Thousands of Ukrainian pupils are expected to register in schools here from tomorrow, as the Government estimates it can accommodate more than 41,000 new students in the education system if needed.

Education officials have estimated there are about 25,000 currently available in primary schools.

A survey of secondary schools has not yet been completed, but government sources said estimates show there is space to accommodate 16,000 to 18,000 students if necessary.

About 80pc of secondary schools have been surveyed so far, and this work is expected to be completed once the schools go back tomorrow. It is believed there is capacity for 2,500 to 3,500 extra pupils in each year of secondary school.

Registrations fall well short of these figures, but schools are braced for an influx of students, as it would have been difficult to enrol in schools while these were shut for the mid-term break.

It is also thought there is pent-up demand for school places which is likely to become apparent in the coming weeks, because of the lag between when Ukrainian families arrive in Ireland and when they eventually get to enrol.

In some cases, families have had to delay enrolling in schools until they find out where they are going to be housed long-term; in other cases parents and guardians may have waited to settle before registering with a local school; others are thought to have waited to see if it would be possible to return to Ukraine.

There are about 2,000 new primary-school registrations to date. Secondary schools have enrolled 1,800 pupils.

A spokesman for the Department of Education said primary-school enrolments here peaked in 2018 but have reduced since, freeing up capacity. He said this is timely, as the majority of pupils coming from Ukraine are believe to be of primary-school age.

“The net overall reduction in primary enrolments by 2022/23 was projected to be in the order of 25,000 pupils. There is also good capacity at post-primary level,” he said.

“Ultimately, the location of the accommodation provided for the Ukrainian families will be relevant in maximising the utilisation of existing school capacity. The department is coordinating with other government departments in this respect, with a view to ensuring as much alignment of our planning processes as possible.”

Sources have conceded that reaching these figures would put a strain on the education system, with teacher unions regularly voicing concern about class sizes, even before Russia invaded Ukraine.

However, it is unclear how many places will be filled. Unions have been engaging with the Department of Education to discuss how vital supports can be provided to new pupils.

At a briefing prior to the ASTI’s annual convention last week, union general secretary Kieran Christie said it would be important to get as many Ukrainian teachers as possible into the education system.

Kieran Christie

The department said it was working closely with the Teaching Council to prioritise the registration of any such teachers. Requirements for extra teachers in schools are being handled on a case-by-case basis by the department.

One source said 33 “whole-time equivalent” teachers have been provided to 262 primary schools. About five have been allocated to support 58 secondary schools with needs assessments on-going.

Language supports are also being put in place to help children and their families with the transition into Irish schools, a spokesman said, and these will work to align “school capacity with the placement of families”. The teams will also help with the supply of tutors who speak other languages to meet the needs of Ukrainian students.

Bus Éireann has been in consultation with the Department of Education to facilitate school transport.

Tickets here will be free with normal eligibility criteria waived. In cases where there is no capacity or no existing services available, grants may be offered to families, a government source said.

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