Fee-pay schools argue against cuts

 

SUGGESTIONS THAT the State should not pay teachers’ salaries in fee-charging schools are “simplistic” and “specious” and would actually cost the State more money, the Oireachtas Committee on Education has heard.

Sister Eileen Randles of the Loreto Education Trust said 26,000 students attended fee-charging schools and they would still have to be educated and teachers would still have to be paid.

Withdrawing State support for teachers’ salaries could result in increasing fees to anything from €20,000-30,000 per year, she said. The average fees at Loreto’s fee-charging schools are €3,600 per year.

If fee-charging schools had to pay teachers’ salaries, they might either close down, or try to get into the free education scheme, Sr Randles said.

She was part of the Joint Managerial Body (JMB) delegation before the Oireachtas committee yesterday. The JMB represents the management of almost 400 voluntary secondary schools in the State, of which 56 are fee- charging.

Its general secretary Ferdia Kelly said the reality was that “the payment of fees subsidises the lack of proper State funding for education in Ireland and not the other way around”.

Schools that did not charge fees were involved in significant levels of fundraising as a matter of course, he said.

“What is at times ignored is the saving to the public funds that accrues from students being educated in schools that seek to raise funds through the charging of fees. Remember that the parents of students in the fee-charging schools are taxpayers and are entitled to free post-primary education for their children,” he said.

The delegation also emphatically rejected claims that some voluntary secondary schools were not accepting their fair share of children with special needs.

Both Belvedere College and Wesley College said 10 per cent of their student intakes were children with special needs. Sr Randles said Loreto schools did not know of the students’ educational requirements until after they had been accepted into the school.

Independent Senator Rónán Mullen said there was a “tabloid journalistic perception” that some schools were being elitist in not accepting certain students.

Labour Senator Brendan Ryan said he had listened to complaints from principals about some schools not taking their fair share of students with special educational needs. Parents were told in “subtle ways” that their children might be better off at other schools, he said.

Fine Gael’s Fidelma Healy-Eames said the word on the street was that a child’s address and their parents’ occupations were very important. “I can categorically say that that is not true,” Belvedere principal Gerry Foley said.

Ferdia Kelly pointed out that, under Section 29 of the Education Act 1998, parents were entitled to appeal a decision refusing their child a place in a school. There was no evidence of any “unusual patterns” associated with any particular types of schools in the appeals made, he said.

Mr Kelly also rejected charges of elitism against voluntary secondary schools and said Catholic fee-paying schools were very aware of their obligation to address to address the issue of inequality.

Minority faith schools provided for the “entire spectrum of their community, including the economically disadvantaged”, he said.

Meanwhile, Labour’s Ruairi Quinn highlighted the plight of Educate Together which had lodged an application to provide a second-level school in 2007 and was still awaiting the decision.

He said Educate Together, which runs multi-denominational primary schools, represented the largest minority group in the State, but the rights of this group were not being recognised or protected.

Sr Randles said the group had “a very high mountain to climb” to get a second-level school sanctioned in the current climate, but she certainly would not oppose their application.