MORE than 90pc of students who sat the Leaving Cert in fee-paying or grind schools went on to higher education, figures compiled by the Irish Independent reveal.
The figures -- underlining the power of being able to pay for education -- show that around 4,165 students sat the Leaving Cert in the country's 56 fee-paying schools this year.
A further 1,700 students studied for the exam in private grind schools, such as the Institute of Education in Dublin and Yeats College in both Galway and Waterford.
In total, students who had studied for the Leaving Cert in either fee-paying or grind schools made up one in every eight of those who enrolled in college in September.
By contrast, the average transfer rate for schools in the free education scheme was lower.
It varied from below 10pc for schools in disadvantaged areas to an impressive 100pc for some schools, particularly Gaelscoileanna, such as Colaiste Eoin and Colaiste Iosagain in Stillorgan, Co Dublin.
Teachers' Union of Ireland general-secretary Peter MacMenamin said the figures for the fee-charging sector showed that people who were already socially privileged were buying additional privilege for their children.
He also claimed that this was leading to a widening of the class divide in society.
Although grind schools do not get any state aid, fee-paying schools do, in the form of the taxpayers paying out almost €100m in teachers' salaries. The fee-paying schools also take in around €130m a year in day and boarding fees.
Today's breakdown also shows that students from the fee-paying sector tend to be concentrated in the universities, rather than in institutes of technology.
Mr MacMenamin said 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.
Dr Selina McCoy from the Economic and Social Research Institute said: "Given the nature of the intake to fee-paying schools, you would expect a large proportion to progress to higher education."
Pupils in these schools were predominantly drawn from the middle classes and received more support at home, said Dr McCoy. She suggested that they could have done just as well in the free education scheme.
Many students in the Gaelscoileanna, she said, were also from the middle classes.
Dr McCoy added: "What we really need to focus on in future research is the extent to which schools add value or make a difference in enabling students to successfully compete for higher education entry."