26,000 at private schools at a cost of €100m to taxpayer


Parents are still able to pay €6,000-plus fees despite the recession

THE NEW enrolment figures for fee-paying schools will raise further questions about State support for private education.

Despite the recession, the figures show that huge numbers of parents are still able to pay expensive fees for over 26,000 pupils.

In all, private fee-paying schools enjoy a fee income of over €100 million per year.

Most fee-paying schools charge fees of over €6,000 per year, with boarding schools charging up to €16,000 per year.

In addition, they received over €100 million in support from the taxpayer in 2008/9.

With teacher salaries paid by the State, many fee-paying schools enjoy much better facilities than their counterparts in the free second-level sector.

These better facilities, the prestige attached to fee-paying schools and their strong showing in school league tables all help to explain the surge in private education in the past decade.

Many educationalists are critical of State support for elitist private education at a time when the Department of Education is cutting the number of special needs assistants.

The Teachers’ Union of Ireland has also accused some fee-paying schools of operating restrictive admission policies. It says State support should be withdrawn from these schools.

But defenders of the system say parents are entitled to choice. They say less State support would mean higher fees, forcing students into State schools at a greater cost to the exchequer.

The most up-to-date Department of Education figures show the 51 fee-paying schools received this support for teacher salaries in 2008/09.

An additional €2.1 million in support was provided for capital or building works in 17 fee-paying schools last year.

One school – St Andrew’s in Booterstown, Dublin – received over €5 million in State supports, including over €4.5 million for teacher salaries and €460,000 for building works.

Blackrock College, Dublin, received over €4.2 million in teacher salaries and got an additional €114,000 for building works.

In the past year, the Government has begun to differentiate between supports for State schools and those for private education.

Last year’s budget increased class size for all second-level schools, but the cut was deeper for the fee-paying sector.

State-run schools are entitled to one teacher for every 19 pupils; in fee-paying schools, however, the pupil/teacher ratio was increased to 1:20.

The Department of Finance backed a 50 per cent cut in State support for fee-paying schools in its submission to the McCarthy group earlier this year.

It says savings of €47 million could be achieved by significantly increasing the staffing schedule for fee-paying schools to the level where one teacher was only provided for every 38 students.