Private schools stance 'utterly flawed'
The principal of a Protestant fee paying school in Dublin says the majority of Protestant minority schools would be forced to close if the €95 million subvention for private secondary schools is abolished.
Christopher Woods, principal of Wesley College in Dublin, was responding to Minister of State Alan Kelly’s appearance on The Week in Politics on RTÉ last night in which he said the days of spending that amount of money on private fee-paying schools had come to an end.
Speaking on RTÉ radio this morning, Mr Woods said the economic argument put forward by Mr Kelly was “utterly flawed.”
“The economics of this are extraordinary and the idea that one would try to dissuade parents from putting money into the education sector at a time like this when any kind of stimulus is welcomed is utterly bizarre but certainly within the Protestant sector many schools would close,” he said.
“If some of them stayed open they would have to charge increased fees and they would become elitist in a way that we have tried to avoid and it would be the end of Protestant secondary schooling as we know it in this State."
“We have to get over this notion that parents who send their children to the protestant fee charging sector are in some way elitist or in some way privileged . . . 30 per cent of our students receive subsidies of one kind or another. We have parents who are well off but we have significant numbers who are on the edge. And who would not be able to come to our schools if Alan Kelly has his way. And if teachers are redeployed [to other schools] you’re not going to save money anyway," he said.
Mr Woods said he feared the continuation of gradual cuts to Protestant schools would result in the “removal of schools of choice” for the minority Protestant population.
Speaking on The Week in Politics, Mr Kelly said that in principle the days of spending that amount of money on private fee-paying schools had come to an end. The State contributes an estimated €95.6 million to private schools, mainly by paying teachers’ salaries. Schools themselves raise an estimated €100 million from fees.
It is understood that increasing the pupil-teacher ratio in fee-paying schools is being considered as it would lead to a decrease in State funding. The Department of Education has conducted an audit of 55 private schools and a report has been drawn up.
Labour TD Robert Dowds called on the Minister for Education to put an end to the subsidy, saying there was no obligation on Protestant schools to charge fees.
"As a member of the Church of Ireland, I would be happy to support the Minister if he removed the subvention which private fee paying schools receive," he said.
"While some Protestant schools are private, there are several examples of schools with a Protestant ethos which are public, such as Newpark in Blackrock, The Royal and Prior Comprehensive in Raphoe, Co. Donegal and Mount Temple in Dublin 3. There is nothing which says that Protestant schools must be private fee paying schools and I think this should be borne in mind when this issue is being discussed.”
However Fine Gael TD Eoghan Murphy said that removing the subvention would not save the State money.
“Fee-paying schools in Ireland receive circa €100m from the government. This pays the teachers in those schools salaries for teaching the pupils and nothing more. The parents pay for the schools themselves and all the resources. By doing this they are taking this financial burden off the State – they are saving all of us money," he said.
"Based on Department of Education figures, this saving is worth around €91 million euro to the government, and it is paid by individuals who have decided to spend additional money on their children’s education"
Mr Murphy said savings of €63 million could be made in the next year by not giving pay rises to teachers.
“We could save a further €50 million by not paying teachers extra to watch pupils in the yard during the lunch break. The difference here is that these would be actual savings, that wouldn’t target any one sector of the education system but would be universal and fair.”