Sir, – Sheila Maher (December 8th) may be surprised to learn France has a two-tiered school system that is largely subsidised by the state and local government. Public schools are entirely funded by the State and local government. “Private” schools, mostly run by the Roman Catholic Church, benefit from almost exactly similar subsidies as the “non-fee-paying” schools in Ireland. Teachers’ salaries are paid by the state, a grant is made for each student and parents’ payments and fund-raising make up the rest.
Approximately 10 per cent of French schools are funded this way, although this figure can rise to 50 per cent in some regions, such as Brittany. While capital grants are not given to “private” schools, they are available for private agricultural and professional education. It is surprising how many agricultural colleges share their facilities with a general secondary school!
The debate on “fee-paying” schools is a smoke-screen hiding the real issue of underfunding. The argument can be made that the current system is profoundly egalitarian in that all pupils benefit from the same allocation of public money in the form of approximately one-twentieth of a teacher’s salary per pupil.
It is generally agreed that “fee-paying” schools are adequately funded through the State payment of some of the teachers’ salaries, a parental contribution of several thousand euro per annum per pupil, and some serious fund-raising for capital investment. Other schools, many of which are privately owned by religious institutions, make do with far less because we, through the State, refuse to pay for our education system. Until all schools benefit from similar funding, this debate will rumble on. The solution is not to reduce funding to those few schools that we all agree are adequately provided for but to ensure that all other schools have the same resources available. – Yours, etc,