Free schools outperform fee-paying schools


PRIVATE FEE-PAYING schools in Ireland are performing no better than their counterparts in the “free” State sector, according to an international study.

It concludes that parents who spend more than €5,000 a year on fees in private schools are receiving no additional premium for this investment.

The report by two Israeli academics compared the performance of students from State-run and fee-paying schools in the OECD/Pisa survey of 15-year-olds in maths. It found public schools actually delivered better results when all factors, including the selective enrolment policies of some fee-paying schools, were taken into account.

The research paper concludes: “Our analysis shows that although the average score of pupils in the sample from private schools is significantly higher than the average score of pupils from public schools, the picture is reversed once the effect of the school selection is accounted for properly”.

The OECD tests Irish teenagers in maths, literacy and science to compile its international rankings of education systems worldwide. Ireland was ranked as average in maths in OECD surveys in 2000 and 2009.

Last night, Prof Danny Pfeffermann of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem told The Irish Timeshis research showed clearly public schools were performing better than private schools in Ireland.

Dr Kevin Denny of UCD’s Geary Institute said the results were “important for the many parents who are now struggling to pay fees for schools and wondering: ‘is it worth it?’ It is also a significant finding for teachers who work in public schools,” he said. The new findings echo the results of the 2010 Irish Timesfeeder school list, which tracked progression to third level.

The top feeder schools for high-point courses include several leading fee-paying schools including Gonzaga, Mount Anville and CUS in Dublin; Glenstal Abbey in Limerick and Clongowes Wood in Kildare.

However the list also indicated how “free” State schools will match or even eclipse the progression rate of some fee-paying schools if they are located in affluent areas. Community and comprehensive schools in affluent areas of the main cities all feature strongly in The Irish Timeslist.

The latest findings are unlikely to dent the huge popularity of fee-paying schools, which has proved very resilient through the recession.

Some 26,000 students are enrolled in the 56 private schools in the State.

Many of the big-name schools have seen remarkable growth over the past decade. These include St Gerard’s in Bray, Co Wicklow, which registered a 28-per-cent increase in enrolment. Dublin schools to see increased student numbers include Gonzaga (up 11 per cent), Belvedere and CUS (both up 10 per cent ) and Blackrock College (up 4 per cent).

The paper – based on the 2000 OECD-Pisa study – was written by Prof Pfeffermann and Victoria Landsman of the National Cancer Institute, Maryland, in the US.

Dr Denny said the Department of Education needed to “study the new study closely and encourage further research along these lines”.

The paper is to be published in a forthcoming edition of the journal Annals of Applied Statistics.