FIVE fee-paying schools are thinking of switching to the free-education system in the face of ongoing cuts in state support.
In the latest blow, the country's 55 fee-paying schools are to lose 100 state-paid teachers from next September – an average of two per school.
Education Minister Ruairi Quinn said the schools had the resources, through fees charged, to employ teachers privately.
However, he also revealed that five of the schools, both Catholic and Protestant, had made "strong enquiries" to his department about leaving the fee-paying sector.
Arising from yesterday's Budget, from September 2013, the State will pay for a teacher for every 23 pupils in a fee-paying school, up from 21 currently.
By comparison, the 668 second-level schools in the free education system are awarded a teacher for every 19 pupils, which is unchanged.
Protestant fee-paying schools described it as a "direct attack" on them and their choice of education. Protestant schools are particularly vulnerable to cuts, as they draw pupils from a wide socio-economic base.
The 55 fee-paying schools charge between €2,550 and €10,065 for day pupils, giving them an independent income of about €120m. On top of that, the State pays €86m in teacher salaries, which will now be reduced by €6m.
The Joint Managerial Body (JMB), which represents about 400 secondary schools, said it would lead to fee-charging schools struggling to maintain the curriculum.
It may lead to parents of some of the 25,600 pupils transferring their children to free education schools. JMB secretary Ferdia Kelly said the State would then not only have to pay the teachers' salaries, but also building and running costs.
Speaking on behalf of Protestant parents, Eleanor Petrie said the majority of children in Ireland had a choice of schools. But she said Protestant parents in the vast majority of cases had only one option – the nearest Protestant fee-charging school or a Protestant boarding school.
"It is critical that the Government understand that these schools have no option but to charge fees. (It) has failed to recognise these schools as a distinct sector," Ms Petrie said.
Ms Petrie added that half of families with children in fee-paying schools were seeking financial assistance.