The taxpayer subsidised private schools by more than €100 million this year, according to official figures.
The vast bulk went on salaries for teachers and special needs assistants in the State’s 51 fee-paying schools, along with capital expenditure and grants for Covid-related costs such as cleaning and additional supervision.
There was controversy when it emerged that private schools would not have automatic access to a special Covid-related fund for reopening schools.
However, a change in policy resulted in fee-charging schools receiving a total of €2 million in grants to reconfigure classrooms and purchase personal protective equipment. The figures come at a time when student numbers in fee-charging schools continue to rise steadily.
Latest enrolment statistics show numbers attending private schools have climbed to more than 25,800 pupils, the highest total on record.
While numbers slipped during the recession, with some private schools opting to enter the free education scheme, enrolments in the fee-paying sector are back at levels last seen during the economic boom.
The boarding sector is also enjoying continuing growth in enrolments, with 3,584 students boarding in 2020.
An Irish Times survey shows most fee-charging schools have frozen their admission fees this year in response to financial uncertainty facing families due to the pandemic.
St Columba’s in Dublin remains the most expensive day school in the country, at €8,654 this year.
It is followed by Sutton Park, Dublin 13 (€7,995); Cistercian College in Roscrea (€7,550); Alexandra College, Dublin 6 (€7,534), The King's Hospital, Co Dublin (€7,475); and St Gerard's, Bray, Co Wicklow (€7,420).
Among boarding schools, St Columba's is also the most expensive (up to €23,952); followed by Clongowes Wood College, Co Kildare (€20,2980); Rathdown School, Glenageary (€19,625); and Glenstal Abbey, Co Limerick (€19,300).
New figures also show most private schools – especially those in the Dublin area – are heavily oversubscribed and have long waiting lists for places.
Under new admissions legislation, schools are required to publish annual notices disclosing the number of places available for applicants. Admissions figures show private schools and high-performing non-fee-paying schools turned away hundreds of applicants in 2020.
Loreto College, a fee-paying secondary school on St Stephen's Green in Dublin, was five times oversubscribed. It received 502 applications for its 100 available first-year places.
Belvedere College, a fee-paying school on Great Denmark Street in Dublin, was more than three times oversubscribed. It received 550 applications for its 168 first-year places.
Gonzaga College, a fee-paying school in Ranelagh, was twice oversubscribed with 182 applications for 86 places.
Blackrock College was twice oversubscribed, although applications to first year are made to Willow Park Senior School. This school reported 407 applications for 208 available places.
Similarly, Castleknock College was almost twice oversubscribed, with a total of 238 applications for 120 places in first year.
Many schools in the non-fee-charging sector are also heavily oversubscribed, especially those in more affluent areas.
For example, Muckross Park College, a second-level non-fee-paying school for girls in Donnybrook, Dublin 4, was one of the oversubscribed secondary schools, according to available figures.
It had a total of 720 applications this year for just 120 first-year places, or six times the number of available place.
Mount Temple Comprehensive School, a non-fee-paying school in Dublin 3, was almost three times oversubscribed. It received 462 applications for the 161 available first-year places.