Fury over computer grants to private schools
THE country's 57 fee-paying secondary schools are to get more than €1m in computer grants from the Department of Education and Skills, the Irish Independent has learned.
They will be included for the first time in the latest round of information and computing technologies (ICT) grants for second-level schools, which will be announced next week.
The decision was greeted with fury last night by the Teachers' Union of Ireland, whose general secretary Peter MacMenamin said it would widen the divide between these schools and those catering for disadvantaged students.
He said teachers had been waiting for the promised ICT grants for a long time. But now, some of the money was being diverted to fee-paying schools which had already received €100m from the taxpayer by way of the State paying teachers' salaries.
The decision to give the private sector ICT grants follows advice from the Attorney General's office, which warned Education Minister Mary Coughlan that it could be unconstitutional to continue to refuse them grants.
The decision could pave the way for fee-paying schools to get other grants, as well as full entitlement to building grants.
Former Education Minister Batt O'Keeffe's controversial decision last year to scrap a special ancillary grant given to Protestant schools prompted the department to seek greater clarity about who would be entitled to such funding in future.
Next Tuesday, Mary Coughlan will announce a €20m package for second-level schools for computers and digital projectors. The intention is that they will be provided for all classes as part of the Government's €150m 'Smart Schools Smart Economy' programme.
All second-level schools will get a basic grant of around €1,700 and a grant per student of more than €40 each. A further €20m will be announced for 3,200 primary schools within a few weeks.
Sources said there was no imminent threat of a court challenge if the fee-paying schools had been excluded next Tuesday but the view was taken that the department could leave itself open to a test case in the future.
Ms Coughlan told the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals in Galway that she would be making the announcement next week. She addressed the conference by video link from Leinster House.