Hanafin cuts funds for private schools
EDUCATION Minister Mary Hanafin has called a halt to the expansion of the €205m fee-paying secondary school sector.
She has announced that no new fee-paying schools will get State support and has already refused to pay teachers' salaries in a school that opened in Ballsbridge, Dublin last month.
The move will come as a setback to the growing number of parents who want to send their children to exclusive schools in the hope that they will get a better education.
New figures show that this year parents are paying out €115m in fees to these schools which are also getting a further injection of €90m from the State in the form of teachers' salaries.
Since 1990 numbers attending these schools have gone from 21,372 to around 26,400 at present -- an increase of 24pc. Most of them have long waiting lists and have to turn away many applicants.
Ms Hanafin said last night: "It is important to take stock at this point. While continuing to give reasonable support to existing schools, there should be no further development of the sector and accordingly I do not intend to provide State funding for any new fee-paying schools."
Apart from teachers' salaries, Catholic fee-paying schools can get 50pc of capital costs while Protestant schools get more aid to protect their minority status.
The minister told Labour's new education spokesperson Ruairi Quinn that it would be inappropriate for the State to depart in any fundamental way from the original intent to allow some schools to remain outside the 'Free Education Scheme'.
She added that most of the increase in enrolments in the past decade was in Protestant schools and it was important that the State continued to support fee-paying schools on the basis of their history and minority religions.
But she stressed that she would be keeping the funding arrangements for the schools concerned under review to ensure that they remained consistent with their original policy basis and would not support any new schools setting up.
Mr Quinn said last night that there were claims that some fee-paying schools were "cherry picking" their students and not taking in their fair share of those with special needs. Schools that received State aid should be obliged to implement policies about "mainstreaming" of pupils with special needs.
At present there are 56 fee-paying schools and a survey shows that the cost of sending children to these schools is rising at almost twice the level of inflation. Figures compiled by the Irish Independent show schools pushed up fees by about 9pc between this year and last year. However, in some instances, fees have gone up as much as 30pc.
Private secondary schools traditionally pump up the fees every year with parents also facing other costs including development fees and extra-curricular costs.
The most expensive school in Ireland is Sutton Park in north Dublin which commands fees of €22,470 for the handful of boarders which attend. Day pupils have to pay €7,970 per annum.
The second most expensive is St Columba's College in Rathfarnham in Dublin where parents pay €20,100 to send their children to board and €12,000 for day pupils.
Educational experts point that the rise in private school numbers came as college fees were abandoned.
Parents with disposable income could then afford to send their children to school privately.
The largest rise in fees came for students in Loreto College, St Stephen's Green.
In the term 2006 to 2007, the fees stood at €2,500, which went up to €3,250 for the current year.
Apart from the growth in the fee-paying sector, an increasing number of pupils are studying full time in their final year in "grind" schools like the Institute of Education in Dublin and Park College in Galway.