Private schools say exclusion from State grants is ‘discriminatory’

Representative body for fee-charging sector seeks independent review of funding model

Private schools have claimed the State’s policy of providing them with lower levels of funding compared with “free” secondary schools is discriminatory and may violate parents’ rights.

The Government funded private schools by just over €111 million this year in the form of salaries for teachers, special needs assistants and other supports.

However, compared with the free sector, fee-charging schools receive fewer State-funded teachers, reduced guidance and counselling allocations and do not automatically receive Covid-19 supports.

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 and has been extended to other areas.

The Joint Managerial Body (JMB), which represents voluntary secondary schools , has called on Minister for Education Norma Foley to commission an independent review of State resourcing for the private sector.

In a recent submission to the department, the JMB said the Constitution enshrines the right of parents to the choice of school for their children, especially those from a minority faith background.

“The right of religious groups to promote denominational education is also protected in our legislation,” it said.

“The overwhelming majority of fee-charging schools are denominational in character and those of minority-faith ethos provide for the constitutional rights of families which would otherwise be denied given the geographical challenges mitigated by boarding schools.”

The JMB said the policy of “differentiating” between fee-charging and free-scheme schools in a wide range of funding streams was having a significant impact on these “not-for-profit educational enterprises”.

A spokesman for the Department of Education, however, 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.

“The funding provided to fee-charging schools recognises that if the parents of children in the fee-charging sector chose to send their children to the non-fee-charging sector, the State would have to fund those school places,” the spokesman said.

Of the €111 million in funding for private schools this year, about €4 million includes Covid support such as additional staff, enhanced cleaning, hand sanitiser and enhanced supervision.

Rising fees

An Irish Times survey, meanwhile, shows most fee-charging schools have increased their fees this year.

St Columba's in Dublin remains the most expensive day school in the country, at €9,174 this year. It is followed by Sutton Park, Dublin 13 (€7,995); Cistercian College in Roscrea (€7,850); Alexandra College, Dublin 6 (€7,685), St Gerard's, Bray, Co Wicklow (€7,590) and The King's Hospital, Co Dublin (€7,550).

Among boarding schools, St Columba's is also the most expensive (up to €24,670); followed by Clongowes Wood College, Co Kildare (€20,800); Rathdown School, Glenageary (€20,600); and Blackrock College (€19,900).

Latest enrolment and admission statistics show most private schools – especially those in the Dublin area – are heavily oversubscribed and have long waiting lists for places.

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.