It's a choice that parents make for many reasons – religious ethos, proximity and scope of available subjects or sports among them – but it's also a financial decision. After all, enrolling your offspring in a private school can cost you the bones of another mortgage, with costs over six years potentially topping €40,000 per child, and twice that if you opt for a private primary school too.
Some parents argue that it is still less than fees for a creche or after-school care, but, unlike a creche, perhaps, attending a private school is discretionary. The “free” public sector, where you may face a “voluntary” contribution of several hundred euro, is certainly a cheaper option – and one that may produce the same Leaving Cert results.
Department of Education figures show a growing number of Irish parents are once again turning to the private option to school their children. There were 52 private schools in Ireland for the academic year 2015/2016, down from 55 in 2011/2012. That followed the move by some schools, such as Kilkenny College, into the public sector, and the closure of others, such as St Philomena’s in Limerick.
Enrolment stood at 24,913 in 2015/2016, up 4 per cent on 23,900 in 2012/2013, but still shy of boom time levels. There were 26,685 pupils enrolled at the peak of private schools in September 2008.
It’s worth noting that, even if you have the funds – or are prepared to borrow – some parents may still be disappointed as many schools, particularly in the Dublin area, are oversubscribed and operate waiting lists.
But as enrolments grow, so too do fees.
Fees climb again
The Teresian School in Donnybrook for example, increased its fees by 4.2 per cent this year, up to €4,950, while St Andrew’s in nearby Booterstown upped fees by 3 per cent to €6,590. The college says that while it avoided increasing fees in 2014/2015 and 2015/2016, “internal and external inflationary pressures” mean that maintaining the quality of the school would not be possible without an increase in fees.
In Kildare, Newbridge College increased its fees by 3.8 per cent to €4,100, while fees are up by 2 per cent at girls school Alexandra College in Dublin’s Milltown.
Not all schools are increasing fees this year however. Fees have remained at €3,860 at Loreto Abbey in Dalkey, and €3,700 in Loreto Beaufort.
So-called “grind schools”, which offer places for fifth/sixth years as well as those seeking to repeat their Leaving Certificate, are also charging hefty fees, with Dublin’s Institute of Education charging as much as €7,150 a year.
If you’re hoping for a private school education for your child, but still have some years to plan, it might be worthwhile to provide for average annual increases of about 2 per cent a year. So, a school charging €5,000 today might be charging €5,751 in seven years’ time.
Fees don’t just start when your child actually enrols in a school. Many schools also charge to put a child’s name down for a future enrolment.
St Michael’s College in Dublin 4, for example, charges a €100 non-refundable enrolment fee, as does Bandon Grammar School in Co Cork, while St Andrew’s charges a non-refundable fee of €95. If the child then receives and accepts a place in the school, this fee may then be deducted from the overall cost – but not always.
Pay in instalments – pay extra
The Institute of Education in Dublin, for example, charges annual fees of €7,150, but if you spread the payments using direct debit, the total jumps to €7,350. Similarly, Bruce College in Limerick charges an annual fee of €6,950, or €7,190 if you pay in instalments.
And if you pay late, you may be penalised further. Bandon Grammar in Cork for example, says that interest on overdue accounts will be charged at the rate of 0.5 per cent per month or part of a month.
Conversely, if you pay early, and in full, you might secure a discount. At Kings Hospital, you can get a discount of 1.25 per cent on the €6,895 fees if you pay in full by the first day of term in August.
Transition year hike
For parents of students attending private schools, whether or not to avail of transition year may have as much to do with the family’s finances as it does with whether or not an extra year would be suitable for the student. Transition year means an extra year of fees, and those fees are higher to cover the cost of additional trips and activities. Holy Child in Killiney, for example, charges an extra €750 on top of its €5,900 annual fee for transition year, while Mount Anville charges €300 and Loreto Beaufort €500.
Access to grants
It may be possible to defray some of the costs associated with attending a private school by applying for a grant or scholarship.
Children of Protestant parents for example (at least one parent must be Protestant), can apply for a means-tested grant via the secondary education committee (SEC), with grant forms available in November of each year. While the amount on offer may vary, it can rise to €2,682 a year, or €7,629 a year for boarders.
Such grants are available in Protestant schools across the country including Villiers in Limerick, and King’s Hospital and St Columba’s in Dublin.
In addition to the SEC grant, there are other sources of grants, bursaries and discounts available for children of the Protestant faith.
Scholarships for children of all faiths may also be available. For example, Rosemont School in Sandyford offers up to two scholarships a year for up to six years’ tuition for students of “high academic promise”. Prospective candidates must sit a scholarship exam, which includes English, maths, Irish and a general knowledge paper.
In Tipperary, Rockwell College awards one full scholarship (€5,950) and three half-scholarships every year, with applicants required to sit 40-minute exams in English, Irish and maths. The college charges a €50 entry fee for the exam.
In Dundrum, south Dublin, Wesley College offers music scholarships, which defray one-half or one one-quarter of annual tuition fees. Applicants looking to enter into first year must have reached at least Associated Board Grade Three standard or equivalent.
Belvedere College runs a social diversity programme that allows a number of students to attend the school without paying fees. Applicants are not selected on academic, sporting or musical ability but on the educational needs of the applicant and the degree to which they fulfil the social diversity criteria.