• At the Labour Party conference in Galway last weekend, a motion was passed to cut the government subsidy for fee-paying secondary schools in Ireland.
What is the economic basis behind this motion? Surely the debate on the issue lacks somewhat in its critical analysis and objectivity. Do fee-paying schools cost the taxpayer money?
Or, more pertinently, how much money would the State save if it took away the €90m it provides in subvention to fee-paying schools? And no, €90m is not the answer -- in fact, it would more likely cost the State more than this figure if all fee-paying schools were closed in the morning.
A recent PricewaterhouseCoopers report, commissioned by a group of fee-paying schools but based on figures from the Department of Education, has endeavoured to answer these important questions.
For a non-fee-paying secondary school, the cost to the State per schoolchild is about €8,000 per annum. This figure drops to €4,517 when you investigate the cost to the State for a schoolchild in a fee-paying school.
There are 56 fee-paying schools with about 26,000 pupils spread about the country, so it doesn't need a Project Maths solution to calculate that the €3,483 less it costs the State to send a child to a fee-paying school as opposed to a non-fee paying school results in a €90,558,000 saving for the State.
I'd be interested to hear the proposers of the motion indicate how this extra cost of almost €91m would be generated by the State if fee-paying schools were allowed to go to the wall.
In addition, how would the State provide places for these children? The teacher-to-pupil ratio would rise significantly, unless the State was magically able to create more than 50 new schools.
Surely a win-win situation for all in the educational system is to have more fee-paying schools, not fewer; in this way, a figure in excess of €91m can be made available to the State to provide vital discretionary income that can be employed to fund important educational initiatives and increase vital resources.
In his first year, Ruairi Quinn has shown an impressive ability to start to get to grips with the myriad problems of education in Ireland, so I would exhort his party members to be careful what they wish (and vote) for -- all you do with this knee-jerk motion is leave the Education Minister hamstrung in his own back yard, and you may actually harm rather than help the educational future of the children of Ireland.
Address with Editor