Subsidising private schools

 

Sir, – In discussing government support of private education, Jonathan Arlow makes suggestions that, at the least, strain credulity (August 3rd). He believes that the State subsidy of this sector is unnecessary and that if Irish private schools were to “charge the same as their British counterparts . . . plenty of (parents) could take the hit”. It’s worth looking at the numbers involved.

Many private schools in Ireland have fees of around €4,000 to €5,000 per year. This is about 10 per cent to 15 per cent of average wages, which were officially almost €39,000 last year (as per the Earning and Labour Costs survey). This investment reflects a decision made by many ordinary parents and indicates their priorities. It costs about the same as smoking 20 cigarettes a day, and as such is hardly the exclusive prerogative of oligarchs and plutocrats. As a comparison, Winchester College on its website describes fees for next year of over £41,000 sterling. It is not the most expensive British public school, despite charging fees of well over a typical year’s wages in Ireland or the UK. That certainly is, in every sense of the word, “exclusive”.

More broadly, Ireland, as measured for example by the Gini coefficient, is a far more equal country than the UK. According to the OECD, our system of taxation and transfer of wealth are actually the most effective in the world for off-setting wage inequality.

In this overall process of tax income allocation, the €90 million the State spends on private education, noted by Aodhán Ó Ríordáin (Opinion & Analysis, August 1st), is less than 1 per cent of our education budget of about €10 billion. Indeed, if private education confers anything like the advantages it is reputed to, I would struggle to think of a better use of State revenue in terms of value realised. – Yours, etc,

BRIAN O’BRIEN,

Kinsale, Co Cork.