Government must stop funding fee-paying schools
Taxpayers are funding the consequences of education and health inequalities: poorer health, more social exclusion, and more criminality
Since the publication of the report
Fee Charging Schools: Analysis of Fee Income
, various commentators have argued for and against the practice of using taxpayers’ money to pay teachers’ salaries in the 55 fee-paying schools. On the one hand, the argument is that these schools save the State more than €23 million a year. All children resident in the State are entitled to free teaching so salaries would have to be paid anyway if these schools were in the free scheme. Others argue that parents who choose to send their children to fee-charging schools are high earners who pay high taxes which more than cover the State subvention of about €100 million a year. Parents are just getting some of their own money back, right? A few commentators have even suggested that if more parents paid fees, there would be better schools for children in the free scheme.
This is utter nonsense. The arguments are the same as those used to justify Ireland ’s two-tier health system. Everyone ordinarily resident in the State is entitled to free treatment in public beds in HSE and voluntary hospitals. Those who pay for private health insurance say they have already paid their taxes for the free bed, and insurance premiums merely buy access to their consultant of choice and better accommodation. Furthermore, proponents of the two-tier system argue that private patients are an important source of HSE income without which the system would collapse. This is more nonsense. The “we’re really doing it for your sake” argument is always used when trying to justify unfair ways of organising society. Inherently unfair systems are not good for anyone.
Those who pay for fee-charging schools and health insurance lose out and those who avail of free-scheme education and public healthcare lose out. Both are lose-lose systems.
The reality is that, apart from choice of consultant, public and private patients receive exactly the same service. Children who attend fee-charging schools would do just as well academically in the free scheme. Everyone does better when there is a fair and equal mix of socioeconomic groups availing of public services.
Social class mix
There is convincing evidence that the social class mix within a school has either a positive or negative synergistic effect on pupil performance, even when their own socioeconomic background is taken into account. One ESRI study found that “Working class pupils in predominately working-class schools tend to have lower exam grades, higher absenteeism and higher drop-outs rates than those in predominately middle-class schools”.
A 2011 Department of Education and Skills report, OECD Project Overcoming School Failure: Policies that Work , notes “There is significant evidence from research, both in Ireland and elsewhere, that disadvantage associated with poverty assumes a multiplier effect and is exacerbated when large proportions of pupils are from poor backgrounds (a social context effect)”.
This report concludes that the priority for post-primary education is to promote inclusiveness and “support schools in developing an inclusive environment for all learners”.
Why then does the Government allow some schools to charge fees so that most children are automatically excluded?
Children who attend fee-charging schools are from higher socioeconomic groups and are thus denied an opportunity to mix with children from less well-off backgrounds. That is the whole point of course: to create an elite group who will take top Irish jobs. The downside is they do not get a broad perspective into how society operates. Without this insight, how can they be any good to anyone?
All adults and children are entitled to the same high-quality health and education services paid for through general taxation. Anyone who wants to send their child to a fee-charging school can do so provided the school receives no funding whatsoever from the State. Those who want to avail of private healthcare can do so provided treatment is delivered in hospitals and clinics entirely funded by health insurance.
Unless this happens, taxpayers will continue to fund the consequences of education and health inequalities: poorer health, more social exclusion, and more criminality.
The Government must act now and insist all schools join the free scheme and accept any child from the catchment area.
In addition, all patients, whether public or private, should take whatever consultant they get, in the same way that no one can choose their nurse, social worker, or porter. These policies will rapidly create a more equal society.
Dr Jacky Jones is a former HSE regional manager of health promotion