I work in a private school. Is my job secure?

Ask Brian: Debate over funding for fee-charging sector casts spotlight on who pays teachers

I secured a permanent position in a fee-charging secondary school as a home economics and Irish teacher a year ago. I was shocked when my bank questioned the security of my salary during a recent mortgage application. How can this be?

There has been recent debate over the future of fee-charging schools. Sinn Féin, for example, has proposed withdrawing State funding for the sector. As a result, some private schools have privately warned that they may not survive in the long term. This may be where your bank manager is coming from.

You’ll be aware that some teaching staff in fee-charging schools are privately employed, but most are paid by the Department of Education. I presume, from your query, that you are in the latter category.

Why is the department paying teachers in private schools? You need to go back to the establishment of the “free education" scheme in 1966 by Donagh O’Malley for an answer. At the time all second-level schools outside the old vocational or VEC network were fee-charging.


What O’ Malley offered all secondary schools – predominantly owned and managed by religious orders – was a £25 capitation payment per student annually, on the basis that they would declare that they were no longer charging fees.

The majority of schools signed up to the scheme, pocketed the £25 from the State, subtracted the amount from their existing annual fee and reclassified the balance as a “voluntary contribution”.

A proportion of schools whose fees were substantially higher than £25 on offer or who were servicing Ireland’s minority faith communities decided to remain as they were pre-1966. In other words, they continued to charge fees and opted not to avail of the annual capitation payment. You are currently employed in one of these schools.

Nobody in 1966 questioned the validity of these schools continuing as they were or whether the State would continue to pay their teachers salaries. This, however, is now a subject of debate.

Today, teachers are allocated at a ratio of one for every 19 students in “free” secondary schools, compared with one for every 23 students in the fee-charging sector. The policy was first introduced as a cost-cutting measure in 2009.

A spokesman for the Department of Education said what differentiates fee-charging schools from others is their capacity to raise funds through mandatory fees, while also being in receipt of exchequer funding.

Teachers in private schools who are paid by the department have a secure salary; in the event of closure, for example, you would be entitled to be redeployed, though it is doubtful whether you would be entitled to hold on to any middle-management posts or allowances. Privately-employed teachers, however, would not have this security.