High Court school ruling throws up questions

Analysis: Issues of advantage of private education and fees-discounts were raised

Mr Justice Gerard Hogan: Solomon-like role. Photograph: Collins Courts

Mr Justice Gerard Hogan: Solomon-like role. Photograph: Collins Courts

Fri, Aug 23, 2013, 01:00

Mr Justice Gerard Hogan in the High Court adopted a Solomon-like role in deciding in the absence of parental agreement whether their 12-year-old son should attend a fee-paying school rather than one in the public system.

Interesting questions, unrelated to the specific case before the court, arise out of the proceedings. One relates to whether there is some inherent advantage in attending a fee-paying rather than a State school. Another is linked to Mr Justice Hogan noting that the private school had offered a 50 per cent fees discount to the family, which raises the question as to whether private school fees are being discounted in the economic climate.

The school league table data published every November in The Irish Times shows that fee-paying schools are always counted among the “feeder schools” that send the highest proportion of their students to university. But so too are schools in the public system, with more than 120 schools last year claiming 100 per cent of their students entered higher education.

Nine A1s

It is also worth noting that the only student to get nine A1s in this year’s Leaving Cert attended the public Gorey Community School and the majority of schools whose students got eight A1s were in the public system.

The motivation for parents to decide to make the financial sacrifice and send their children to fee-paying schools is therefore a complex one and is not based solely on how a child will perform in a State examination context.

There seems to be a wish among parents in south Dublin to send their children to private schools, suggests Clive Byrne, director of the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals.

It is unusual, but not unknown, for private schools to reduce fees or to offer some form of scholarship to students who show particular merit, Mr Byrne suggested.

There have been reports of schools having to deal with some parents’ inability to continue paying full fees because of their financial situations. Mr Byrne said: “I am not sure it is at crisis level but it is a feature in schools. I am sure some schools are making arrangements with parents.”

Unpaid fees
The principal of a Dublin fee-paying school said the issue was now widespread. “It is being dealt with on a caseby-case basis,” said the principal.

Generally, schools would not force a student to leave because of unpaid fees if the pupil was in fifth or sixth year. “You would really try to work with the family, you want to find a solution,” the principal said.