ONE of the country's best-known schools, Rockwell College, will become fee-paying from September.
The famous Co Tipperary school was forced out of the free education scheme when it couldn't agree with the Department of Education on what it could charge pupils.
The charges for both day and boarding pupils were above strict limits imposed on schools in the free education scheme.
Rockwell has been in discussion with the department about the matter for two years, but they failed to reach consensus.
Now Rockwell, with over 500 boarding and day pupils, has decided to opt for fee-paying status, the Irish Independent has learnt.
It goes against an emerging trend among fee-paying schools to enter the free education scheme. At least 10 fee-paying schools have made inquiries with the department about changing their status, as falling pupil numbers and Government cuts squeeze their finances.
Recently, Kilkenny College announced that it was moving from the fee-paying sector into the free-education scheme in September.
With so many fee-paying schools now considering entering the scheme, the department is keen to ensure that no one is bending the rules.
The department has strict rules about what schools in the scheme can charge; they may not apply tuition fees and are subject to limits in relation to other charges.
For boarding pupils, the department imposes a ceiling of €6,000 a year for five-day boarders and €7,800 a year for six or seven-day boarders.
The purpose is to ensure that schools are not applying hidden fees over and above the true economic costs of providing boarding facilities.
The Irish Independent understands that Rockwell, whose past pupils include former President Patrick Hillery and Bank of Ireland boss Richie Boucher, was charging about €11,000 a year for five-day boarders and over €12,000 for seven-day boarders.
The rules stipulate that if a school cannot demonstrate the boarding fee is exclusively related to the economic cost of the boarding service, it must either comply with the limit or be re-categorised for funding purposes as a fee-charging school.
In relation to day pupils, schools in the free scheme may seek a voluntary contribution but it cannot "operate a charge, in whatever form, that is in effect a mandatory fee".
They may also seek payments for activities such as supervised after-school study, school tours and sporting events, and can request a "reasonable" payment for books and photocopied material. Typically, among schools in the free education scheme, the voluntary contribution sought from parents ranges from €50 to €500 a year.
Rockwell was charging day pupils up to €4,000 a year. On top of that, both day and boarding pupils had to pay an administration fee of €1,130.