Fee-paying schools call for pupil-teacher ratios to stay the same

Sector says continuing cuts mean some children are being treated ‘unequally’

According to Ferdia Kelly of the JMB, the cost to the State for every pupil that moved into a free-scheme school would be €5,200

According to Ferdia Kelly of the JMB, the cost to the State for every pupil that moved into a free-scheme school would be €5,200

 


In an unusual move for the sector, a group representing fee-charging schools has made a pre-budget submission calling on the Government to maintain pupil-teacher ratios at their current level of 23 to one.

The group, which includes parents, schools and the Joint Managerial Body, has said that continuing cuts to private schooling mean that some children are being treated “unfairly and unequally by the State”.

Over recent budgets, post- primary schools in the private sector have seen their teacher allocations fall relative to State schools, where the pupil teacher ratio now stands at 19 to one.

Further increases in the pupil-teacher ratio of fee-paying schools are anticipated in next month’s budget.


Cost to exchequer
At a press conference held in Dublin yesterday the group, representing 55 schools, launched a pre-budget submission detailing their calculation of the potential cost to the exchequer if private schools are forced into the free-scheme sector.

“The department’s own figures show that fees in the 55 schools constitute a €200 million annual subsidy to the education system by parents,” said Ferdia Kelly of the Joint Managerial Body group, which represents all 380 post-primary schools under religious patronage.

Mr Kelly said the cost to the State for every pupil that moved into a free scheme school would be €5,200.

More than 25,000 students attend fee-paying schools, putting the overall potential cost to the State at €133 million per annum, he said.

The Department of Education disputes this figure, which it has placed closer to €22 million.

Responding to yesterday’s submission, the department said the figures had not been explained.

The group has also suggested that 1,500 jobs are at risk if the private-school sector comes under further pressure.

“Fee-charging schools are a long-standing and successful example of a public-private partnership and are a net contributor to the economy,” the group has claimed.


Government smokescreen
Representing a newly formed parents’ group for the sector, Barbara Broderick said that parents were “feeling hurt” and looking for equality for their children in fee-paying schools.

“Why should our children be treated differently? Why should we be penalised for wanting what is best for our children?” she asked.

Ms Broderick said parents felt the fee-paying sector was being targeted by the Government to create a “smokescreen”.

“These attacks on fee-paying schools are intended to create a distraction from other cuts in the education sector,” she said.


Transfer negotiations
In response to recent media reports that as many as 12 private schools were now in transfer negotiations with the Department of Education, Mr Kelly said he thought the figure was considerably lower.

However, department sources yesterday suggested that the figure had now reached 13.

Since the recession began two schools, Wilson Hospital School and Kilkenny College, have transferred into the free-scheme sector.