Tuesday 23 January 2018

Fee-paying schools lose building grants

Katherine Donnelly

EDUCATION Minister Ruairi Quinn has excluded fee-paying schools from the latest round of building grants.

The minister took a decision not to share any of the €30m fund among schools where fees range between €2,550 and €12,750 a year for day pupils.

It is a departure from tradition and sends a signal to the 57 schools involved that they can no longer take for granted state support for building works.

Under the Government's Jobs Initiative, 374 schools will receive an average of €82,000 each to spend on minor works, such as toilets and roofs, over the summer.

A spokesperson for the minister said: "It was necessary to prioritise funding and, at the minister's request, the focus was on funding schools that don't charge fees."

The spokesperson added that the decision was taken in relation to the Jobs Initiative and did not represent a change in policy.

It is expected that the €30m programme will create 2,400 direct jobs and 480 indirect jobs in the construction sector.

Participating schools were selected from about 2,200 applications under the Department of Education's annual Summer Works Scheme.

At the end of March, when Mr Quinn was only a few weeks in office, he announced the main round under the scheme, distributing €41.4m to 453 schools.

Among those that featured in the March announcement was St Columba's College, Rathfarnham, Co Dublin, the most expensive day school in the country with annual fees of €12,750. Some of the other fee-paying schools would have expected to appear in this week's round.

The handing over of state funds to fee-paying schools always attracts criticism.

They receive over €100m a year from the State to pay teachers' salaries and Mr Quinn has stated that he will not interfere with that.

That is partly because the State would have to pay for teachers if the same pupils were in the non fee-paying sector.

The other reason is that the fee-paying sector includes Protestant schools, whose minority status enjoys certain state protection.

Fee-paying schools have been accused of having non-inclusive admissions policies and cherry-picking students that don't need extra support.

The Teachers Union of Ireland said it was unjust that taxpayers fund private fee-paying schools that can afford their own swimming pools and golf courses, while parents in the free education sector are collecting tokens to get computers.

Irish Independent

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