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Thursday 22 March 2018

John Walshe: Schools fear €100m teachers' salary subsidy will be hit next

LAST year the Government did the unthinkable when it withdrew grants given only to Protestant secondary schools. Ministers tried to dress the decision up as constitutionally necessary in order to have a level funding playing field with Catholic schools. But everybody suspected the real reason was to save money.

This year that need is much greater, and the €100m subsidy in the form of teachers' salaries to the country's fee-paying schools -- Catholic and Protestant -- is again in the spotlight.

The Joint Managerial Body, which represents all secondary schools, those in the free education scheme and those that charge fees, is alarmed. It warned of closures in the fee-paying sector if there is a further worsening of the pupil teacher ratio, saying that these schools have no hidden wealth.

In its pre-Budget submission it jumped to the defence of fee-paying schools, saying that dismissing them as elitist "represents a lazy form of judgement".

Most parents opting for such schooling make sacrifices based on their belief in education and their children's future. Fee-paying schools, like most in the voluntary secondary sector, require highly active fundraising programmes and their record of inclusion of young people of a wide range of abilities and incomes is well established, the group said.

The latter claim may cause some raised eyebrows as not all fee-paying schools could point to a distinguished record of catering for special needs students. Certainly the Teachers' Union of Ireland (TUI) has been extremely critical of them in that regard.

General secretary Peter MacMenamin had a sideswipe at the sector when he issued a statement last week, saying the TUI recognised the need to examine every area of expenditure for savings and every area of income or wealth for the imposition of an expanded and equitable taxation base.

"Such examination of expenditure must look to any funding that is directed at privilege rather than seeking to further disadvantage the already disadvantaged. The maintenance of privilege in any sphere, particularly in education, cannot be allowed to continue," he said.

It is known that the Government is once again looking at the pupil teacher ratio. Last year this was raised to 19:1 for schools in the free education scheme but to 20:1 in all the fee-paying schools. If that happens again, there will be howls of outrage from some of the most influential voices whose children go to Catholic or Protestant fee-paying schools.

Last year's raising of the pupil teacher represented a double whammy for the Protestant secondary schools all of whom, for historical reasons, are fee charging.

Irish Independent

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