The number of children attending primary school is expected to decline by around 120,000 – more than 20% – over the next decade, according to new projections from the Education Ministry.

The sharp reduction could lead to a surplus of teachers at the primary level and could threaten the future of some small schools.

However, school leaders say the drop also represents an opportunity to reduce class sizes in the state, which surveys show are among the highest in Europe.

While the pupil-teacher ratio is set to drop from 25: 1 to 24: 1 this year – the lowest on record – it remains the highest in the EU, where the average is 19: 1.

Official data in a technical report on full-time enrollment projections (2021-2040) shows that primary-level numbers have peaked and are likely to decline until 2033.

Projections assume slightly higher migration rates in the coming years and a slight decline in fertility rates compared to current figures.

This report will be used in the areas of teacher supply and demand modeling and the planning of school buildings.

It shows that primary school enrollment in Ireland in 2020 stood at 561,000, down almost 6,000 from 2019.

The number of primary school students is now expected to drop over the next few years and will hit a low of just over 440,000 by 2033. This is 120,000 less than today.

Regional distribution

The sharpest drop will be in the first period and will be on average 12,000 students per year between 2022 and 2028.

Primary school enrollment is expected to rise again from 2033 and climb to nearly 475,000 by 2040, an increase of about 34,300 over the seven years 2033-2040.

A regional breakdown of the projections puts forward two hypotheses on population movements within the country: an “exit from Dublin”, where a large number of young families leave the capital; and an “influx” from Dublin, where the trend is reversed.

The regional breakdown – based on the first assumption – predicts the largest reductions in the south and west (nearly 26 percent). This could put many small schools, which are concentrated mainly in the west, under acute pressure.

The next largest drop is expected in Dublin (24%), while the smallest cuts are expected in suburban Midlands and Middle East counties (8-12%).

When this drop is broken down by age group, it is expected that there will be nearly 10,000 fewer children entering preschools than in September 2029 compared to this year.

In contrast, secondary school enrollment is expected to increase sharply in the short term. This is due to a swelling of the population passing from primary to secondary education.

They have increased by nearly 27,000 (8%) over the past five years and are expected to peak in 2024 with just over 408,000 students, almost 30,000 more than in 2020.

Second level

The number of second-level students is expected to gradually decrease at the second level after 2024, with enrollment expected to drop by 2,900 in 2026 and by 7,700 in 2029.

When these numbers are broken down by year group, the number of students entering first year is expected to increase by 1,000 in 2021, then start to fluctuate slightly in 2022 and 2023, with a larger decline from 2024. D ‘ by the end of the projection period, there will be 17,000 fewer first-year students than in 2021.

At the Leaving Cert level, 63,000 students will be enrolled for the 2021/2022 academic year, i.e. 3,227 more than in 2020, while the peak year planned for Leaving Cert sessions is 2026 with 70,547 students. .