A spokeswoman for the Association of Secondary Teachers of Ireland (ASTI) has said there is “no evidence to support the notion that if a parent wants a high quality education for their child they have to pay for it”.
The issue arose following a High Court case on Wednesday in which Mr Justice Gerard Hogan directed that a 12-year-old boy should be enrolled in a private school rather than one in the public system when his separated parents could not agree on a choice of school.
His father wanted him to attend a particular school in the public system, while his mother favoured a private school. The judge said the private school "would be the more appropriate school" for a boy of his aptitude. The boy's intelligence meant he "would be likely to thrive in the more academic environment" of the private school.
He emphasised, however, that this was "not to suggest private education is in some way more desirable than education in the public system".
The ASTI spokeswoman said yesterday: “The evidence is that you will get high quality education regardless of what type of school you send your child to.”
Teachers’ Union of Ireland general secretary John Mac Gabhann said “by any objective measure” there is “an absolute systemic excellence” in the public education system.
“If you are to judge from the Leaving Certificate, it is not entirely coincidental the top performing students are those who came through non-fee-paying schools,” he said.
“This decision is framed in terms of the talents of the individual child. I have no doubt Judge Hogan was not suggesting – and would not intend to suggest – that scholastic achievement is only or mainly in fee-paying schools.
“There is no logical reason for a fee-paying school and there is certainly nothing in it or about it that is superior per se to what is available in the State sector.”
Ian Coombes, the principal of Kilkenny College which made the transition from private to public earlier this year, said there was "a strong argument" for particularly smart children being equally likely to fulfil their potential in a public or private school.
“If you look at the children who are absolutely exceptional each year there is by no means a monopoly of those coming from the fee-charging sector,” he said. “I think it’s far more blurred than perhaps this judgment might indicate.”
Emer Smyth, joint programme co-ordinator of education research at the Economic and Social Research Institute, said while public versus private schooling was not an area the institute has looked at directly, the type of school makes less difference the more intelligent the child is.
"Schools make a much bigger difference to students who are at the lower end of achievement and they make much less of a difference to students at the higher end of the scale."
She added that any prevalence of private schools towards the top of league tables must be qualified with the fact their students tend to come from more middle-class backgrounds and have "more resources in terms of income and education".