Fee-paying schools likely to see higher pupil-teacher ratio

 

THE GOVERNMENT is expected to target fee-paying schools in the budget, with further changes to the pupil-teacher ratio. The move will result in larger classes and possible cuts to subject choice in these schools; it could also mean higher fees for 25,500 pupils.

While the Department of Education insists “no final decision’’ has been taken, a one-point increase in the staffing schedule for all fee-charging schools is likely.

These changes will increase the pupil-teacher ratio for fee-paying schools to 22:1 with effect from the 2013/14 school year. The move could force these schools to use more fee income to subsidise teaching and extra-curricular activities. The cut is expected to realise full-year savings of €3.2 million.

There is speculation some Protestant boarding schools – which face serious financial difficulty – may be exempted from the change.

Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn says he must find €77 million in total cuts from the €9 billion education budget. In all the 55 fee-paying schools receive about €100 million in support from the exchequer; virtually all of this is used to fund teacher salaries. These schools also generate about €102 million in annual fee income.

The Department of Education has asked private schools to clarify how they spend this income. They have also been asked to give details of outstanding mortgage payments, access programmes for disadvantaged students, available cash reserves and additional teaching posts.

The department says a report based on the responses from private schools will play a key role in informing budget decisions in relation to the sector.

The forthcoming report is expected to highlight a number of features including:

The increasingly “two-tiered” nature of private education in Ireland. Some Protestant boarding schools says they are struggling to survive and are at a “tipping point” while others in the Dublin area are in a relatively strong financial situation;

Increasingly, private schools are having difficulty securing fee income in relation to Leaving Cert students. Many parents are struggling to pay the fees but most schools will not expel students during their Leaving Cert year;

Demand for private education – fees average more than €5,000 a year – has remained strong despite the downturn.

The expected change in the budget will widen the gap at second level between the pupil-teacher ratio in fee-paying schools and those in the “free” education scheme. The staffing schedule in State schools is currently one teacher for every 19 pupils. In Deis or disadvantaged schools it is 18.25:1.

Of the 55 fee-paying schools in the State, 32 are Catholic, 20 Protestant, two interdenominational and one Jewish.