Private schools have claimed that the state’s policy of providing them with lower levels of funding than “free” secondary schools is discriminatory and may violate parental rights.
The government has funded private schools to the tune of just over 111 million euros this year in the form of salaries for teachers, specialist assistants and other supports.
However, compared to the free sector, fee-based schools receive fewer state-funded teachers, reduced guidance and counseling allowances, and do not automatically receive Covid-19 supports.
Teachers are assigned at the rate of one for 19 pupils in “free” secondary schools against one for 23 pupils in the paying sector. The policy was first introduced as a cost reduction measure in 2009 and has been extended to other areas.
The Joint Managerial Body (JMB), which represents volunteer high schools, has asked Education Minister Norma Foley to commission an independent review of state resources for the private sector.
In a recent submission to the ministry, the JMB said the constitution enshrines the right of parents to choose school for their children, especially those from a religious minority.
“The right of religious groups to promote faith-based education is also protected by our legislation,” he said.
“The overwhelming majority of fee-based schools are denominational in nature and those of the minority religion provide for constitutional rights of families that would otherwise be denied given the geographic challenges mitigated by boarding schools. “
The JMB said the policy of “differentiating” between fee-based and free schools across a wide range of funding sources had a significant impact on these “non-profit educational businesses.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Education, however, said what sets fee-based schools apart from others is their ability to raise funds through mandatory fees, while receiving funds from the treasury.
“The funding for fee-paying schools recognizes that if parents of children in the fee-paying sector choose to send their children to the non-fee-paying sector, the state should fund these school places,” the spokesperson said. .
Of the 111 million euros in funding for private schools this year, around 4 million euros include support from Covid such as additional staff, improved cleaning, hand sanitizer and increased supervision.
Increase in fees
A survey by the Irish Times, meanwhile, shows that most fee-paying schools have increased their fees this year.
St Columba’s in Dublin remains the most expensive day school in the country, at € 9,174 this year. It is followed by Sutton Park, Dublin 13 (€ 7,995); Cistercian College of Roscrea (€ 7,850); Alexandra College, Dublin 6 (€ 7,685), St Gerard’s, Bray, Co Wicklow (€ 7,590) and The King’s Hospital, Co Dublin (€ 7,550).
Among boarding schools, St Columba is also the most expensive (up to € 24,670); followed by Clongowes Wood College, Co Kildare (€ 20,800); Rathdown School, Glenageary (€ 20,600); and Blackrock College (€ 19,900).
The latest enrollment and admission statistics show that most private schools – especially those in the Dublin area – are heavily oversubscribed and have long waiting lists for places.
As numbers plummeted during the recession as some private schools opted for the free education program, enrollment in the paid sector returned to levels last seen during the economic boom.