Varadkar defends fee-paying schools

Tue, Oct 9, 2012, 01:00

MINISTER FOR Transport Leo Varadkar has said not every parent who sends their child to a fee-paying school is “super-rich” and many make sacrifices to do it.

He was responding to the suggestion by the Labour Minister of State Alan Kelly that the €96 million the State gives to fee-paying schools to pay teachers could be scaled back or abolished.

The Department of Education is looking at €77 million worth of cuts in the forthcoming budget.

“The day of being able to give €96 million to €100 million for private schools is something that is going to come to an end,” Mr Kelly maintained on RTÉ’s The Week in Politics on Sunday night.

Mr Varadkar said closing down fee-paying schools would cost the State money because they received no capitation grant and “virtually no” capital funding.

He suggested that a series of “kite-flying” exercises in relation to what might be in the budget, especially in relation to child benefit, had contributed to a dramatic drop in consumer confidence, which had previously reached a five-year high.

“I don’t want to scare people about cuts that probably won’t happen and most stuff on the table won’t happen.”

A former pupil of King’s Hospital school in Palmerstown, Dublin, Mr Varadkar is one of several Cabinet Ministers who attended fee-paying schools.

Mr Varadkar said his parents, Dr Ashok Varadkar and his wife, Miriam, had no difficulty in finding the money to send him to King’s Hospital school, but they struggled for other members of the family when his father was yet to establish his GP practice. “They had the same Ford Cortina for 10 years and didn’t go on a foreign holiday for seven years,” he said.

Fine Gael TD Eoghan Murphy said removing the subvention would not save the State money. “Fee-paying schools in Ireland receive circa € 100 million 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.

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,” he said. “Unfortunately we are not allowed to discuss increments and allowances, even though neither payment is covered under the Croke Park Agreement,” he added.

Meanwhile, the principal of a Protestant fee-paying school in Dublin said the majority of Protestant minority schools would be forced to close if the € 95 million subvention for private secondary schools was abolished. Christopher Woods of Wesley Collegesaid the economic argument put forward by Mr Kelly was “flawed”.