Ireland ranks last in the OECD for investment in education

Ireland ranks last out of 36 developed countries for investment in education as a measure of our national wealth or gross domestic product (GDP), according to the latest data from the OECD.

Economists say the presence of multinationals skews our GDP numbers, but education unions say the numbers confirm the extent of underinvestment in our schools.

Directory Education at a Glance 2021 Report from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development shows that education spending – ranging from primary to higher and higher education – in Ireland represents 3.3% of our GDP in 2018.

This compares to an EU average of 4.4 percent and is significantly behind the best performers like Norway with 6.6 percent.

Ireland performs best when investment in education is measured as a proportion of overall government spending.

Education accounted for 12.6% of public spending in 2018, more than the OECD average of 11% and the EU average of 9.5%.


The salaries of school personnel represent the largest expenditure in education.

Between 2005 and 2020, salaries for teachers with 15 years of experience increased by 2-3 per cent at primary and secondary levels in OECD countries.

In Ireland, however, teachers’ salaries increased by 16 to 17 percent over the same period.

Average teacher salaries across the OECD were – when converted into US dollars – $ 45,687 (€ 38,683) in primary and $ 51,749 in secondary.

In Ireland, they were significantly higher at $ 59,204 for primary and $ 61,652 for second cycle.

They lagged behind countries such as Germany, which had some of the highest average salaries in primary – € 76,997 – and second tier – € 89,816.

Irish teachers are required to teach longer than their colleagues in OECD countries.

Here, teachers are required to teach 909 hours per year at the primary level, 704 hours at the secondary level.

This contrasts with an OECD average of 791 hours in primary and 685 hours in secondary education in 2020.

School completion

The data also indicates that Ireland has one of the highest school completion rates among OECD countries.

The average proportion of 15-19 year olds in school in the OECD area is 84 per cent

The share is highest in Ireland, Belgium and Slovenia, where enrollment rates have reached 94%.

Ireland also has fewer children from lower socioeconomic groups performing at the lowest level in standardized tests – 16 percent compared to the OECD average of 29 percent.

A positive result is also reflected in the data which shows the difference between the young born in the country and the young born abroad who are neither in school nor in training.

In Ireland, the difference is 2 percentage points compared to the OECD average of 5 percent.

However, Ireland continues to have relatively large classes at the primary level. The latest figures show that the average primary class size in Ireland is 24 – the highest in the EU – compared to an OECD average of 21 and an EU average of 19.

At the third tier, the student-teacher ratio has fallen from 20: 1 to 23: 1 this year, above the OECD and European averages of 15: 1.


The spread of Covid-19 continued to hamper access to in-person education in many countries around the world in 2021.

By mid-May of this year, all OECD countries had experienced periods of complete school closures since the start of 2020.

The number of days of total school closures due to the pandemic varies widely from country to country and tends to increase with the level of education.

Ireland, however, was an exception. In Ireland, preschools were fully closed for 72 days on average between January 2020 and May 2021, while primary schools closed for at least 96 days and secondary schools for 72 days.

In comparison, across the OECD, preschools closed on average 55 days, primary 78 days and secondary 101 days on average.


Responding to the numbers, Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) President Eamon Dennehy said it was clear that a persistent failure to invest in our schools would have long-term social and economic consequences.

“If we take GDP as a measure of national wealth, it is unacceptable for a rich country like Ireland to remain at the bottom of the world rankings,” he said.

“The pandemic has dramatically underscored how important schools are to children, families and communities. It also demonstrated that large class sizes, insufficient staff, inadequate housing and ventilation undermine the ability of schools to provide a safe environment for quality education.

The President of the Teachers Union of Ireland (TUI), Martin Marjoram, said the figures showed our education system was “chronically and disgracefully underfunded”.

“With a range of current and future challenges, a adequately funded education system must be seen as essential to the country’s future, and the government must urgently commit to repairing the damage caused by years of cutbacks and neglect. “, did he declare.

The Irish National Teachers’ Organization said the data which confirmed Ireland’s’ oversized classes’ at primary level remained the largest in the EU was a ‘national embarrassment’.

INTO General Secretary John Boyle said the union was campaigning for further reductions in class size in the upcoming budget.

“It’s time for government action to match the rhetoric of the pandemic months and for swift action to be taken to invest in our primary and special schools as a national priority,” he said.

Aontas, the national adult learning organization, said the report revealed “glaring inequalities” related to adult education levels and their earnings.

He said 41% of adults in Ireland without a Leaving Cert degree earned at least half of median earnings in 2019, compared to an OECD average of 27%.

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