Tuesday 21 January 2020

Fee-paying day schools increase their rates by up to €413 per pupil

Growing demand from parents sees enrolments rise to 25,684

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Katherine Donnelly and Laura Lynott

Fee-paying schools have increased rates by up to €413 a year for day pupils on the back of growing demand from parents.

Enrolments in the 50 fee-paying post-primary schools continue to rise steadily overall as private education becomes more affordable for families.

The boarding sector is also enjoying an ongoing bounce in enrolments with accompanying fee rises too.

About two-thirds of fee-paying day schools hiked fees this year, with an average increase of €165, although there are wide variations, according to a comprehensive survey by the Irish Independent.

At Bandon Grammar School, Co Cork, the increase was a modest €60 a year compared with a jump of €413 for St Columba's College, Rathfarnham, Co Dublin, followed by a €400 increase at St Mary's College, Rathmines, also in south Dublin, bringing fees there up to €6,225,

St Columba's is the most expensive day school in the country, at €8,654 this year, although still well below the €12,246 it charged pre-2016. In that year, it dropped its fees to €8,000 to bring it closer into line with other schools in the area which were continuing a cautious approach, sensitive to what families were prepared to pay as they recovered from the recession.

The market continues to strengthen after suffering a fall-off in pupils during the financial crash, forcing fees to freeze, if not drop.

Because of the financial pressures at that time, a number of schools opted out of the sector and entered the "free fees" scheme, which they saw as more advantageous to their coffers.

As well as the traditional day pupil, some fee-paying schools also have a higher, "day boarder" rate, to cover after-school activities, including sports, study and, perhaps, meals, which can be attractive to working parents.

This year, enrolments in the 50 fee-paying second-level schools have risen to 25,684, up from 25,403 last year, according to recently released figures from the Department of Education. Meanwhile, the number of boarders enrolled in Irish schools is also up, from 3,501 to 3,584.

The rates charged across the fee-paying sector and trends in relation to any increases mirror the community served by a school.

In the affluent suburbs of south Dublin, where there is a big concentration of fee-paying schools, charges tend to be at the upper end of the scale.

Protestant schools, particularly in rural areas, have a much broader mix of socio-economic backgrounds among their pupils, and tend to have much lower fees.

While a steady growth in pupils is obvious in most of the private schools in south Dublin, in recent years they have faced new competition from the so-called "grind" school market, including the new Dublin Academy of Education in Stillorgan.

The roll-books in many schools, both day and boarding, are also benefiting from a growing number of overseas students whose parents want them to have an English-language second-level education, from countries including Ukraine, China and Brazil.

Arthur Godsil of the Godsil Education consultancy, which acts as a students recruitment agency, said while there had always been a market in overseas students who wanted to spend a year or two in an English-speaking school, Brexit was a factor in the ongoing rise in demand in Ireland.

Parents choose fee-paying schools for a number of different reasons, including smaller classes, better facilities, sporting reputations and the social networking opportunities that go with mixing with the well-heeled and well-connected.

There is ongoing debate about the level of Government subvention for the sector, in the form of teacher salaries, which runs to about €90m a year. The counter-argument is that whether pupils are in the fee-paying or 'free fees' sector, the teachers would have to be paid.

Irish Independent

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