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Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The school tie

I’m pleased Ruairi Quinn has announced an audit into fee paying second level schools spending of state cash. I’ve never heard of an audit being ordered into how the states money is being spent in this sector before. As a teacher I welcome the audit so that those of us who teach in the non fee paying sector will be assured that whatever monies there are, are being spent on education and nothing else. Fee paying schools in Ireland mostly draw their pupils from those who are advantaged. Since the demise of religious vocations in teaching orders the fees levied have increased exponentially. Add to that the fact that in some parts of the country wealthy parents who would otherwise have spent money putting their offspring through college will now spend that money on their second level education. This means that fee paying schools are still wells subscribed as one second level principal put it on national radio yesterday. Few of the schools charge less than €5k to attend. Indeed I’ve heard of cases where parents with pupils in school who haven’t paid the fee being taken to court by the school seeking payment.

I’ve long believed that this sector needs to have its state support reduced. I cannot understand why the state pays for either for a principal, deputy principal or career guidance counsellor in these schools. These teachers are not in a classroom. Why should the state pay someone to manage a private institution which is well able to independently provide for itself? In the last few years some of these private schools have been able to find the resources to bring in coaches for school sports teams and IT specialists to train teachers on an ongoing basis.

Private schools don’t get a capitation fee from the government but they can get capital support for extensions and all teachers salaries are paid by the state. In terms of savings its no real ongoing saving to say that you won’t grant aid construction since schools don’t build every year and may not need to build if they are selective enough and maintain numbers at existing levels. The real scope for saving is in terms of money earmarked for salaries. Pupil Teacher Ratio in fee paying schools is significantly less than in the rest of the second level schools. Many fee paying schools can afford to employ extra teachers that give the school an advantage over other non fee-paying schools. Check out some of these schools websites. They point out the advantage of lower class numbers.

There are other issues that are outside the remit of the minister but need to be answered by some of the orders and patrons and it’s this; What are some patrons who see their role as providing for the less well off doing as patrons of schools that are fee paying and catering only for the children of the well off? Ultimaltely these are bigger long term questions that we need to ask if we hope to have a better Ireland into the future.

The result of the audit will hugely influence Ruairi Quinn’s thinking in framing Budget 2013. I await the audit and I hope that Ruairi Quinn publishes the audit so that there will be transparency for all of us who teach to.

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