Monday 19 March 2018

In My Opinion: Privilege bias at expense of the marginalised must stop now

John MacGabhann

It has long been argued that private fee-paying schools would cease to exist if required to refund the estimated €100m subvention received from the State in the form of teacher allocation.

We believe that this is nonsense. Even if fees were increased, the majority of people currently doing so would continue to buy privilege.

However, even on examination of the economics involved it can be illustrated that the majority of fee-paying schools could reimburse their state funding and still have enough money to offer smaller class groups, greater subject choice and a range of other privileges.

It is right and commendable that parents seek the best possible education for their children. Such an education is available across the country, principally in the almost 700 schools in the non-fee sector. So the issue is not one of quality.

The State is underwriting privilege for a minority at the expense of the 9pc of families that choose not to or cannot afford to send their children to fee-paying schools. This bias translates into better chances for a tiny minority -- about 5pc.

With the exception of minority-faith schools, which often depend on Government assistance to survive, this can no longer be justified.

The economic argument is best addressed by use of a case study. Public School X is a sole second-level provider within its community. Private School Y is a fee-paying school. Enrolment is dependent, at a minimum, on parents' ability to pay the fees of €5,000 per annum. Both cater for 500 pupils.

Each school is entitled to an allocation of teachers, paid for by the State. Public School X gets an allocation of 26.3 teachers (costing €1.578m annually) while Private School Y gets 25 (costing €1.5m).

In terms of further resourcing, Public School X will receive €450,000 (€900 per pupil) from the State in capitation grants and grants for secretaries and caretakers and for specified programmes. Private School Y does not receive these grants but it collects €2.5m in tuition fees (€5,000 per pupil).

If Private School Y puts €450,000 of its fee income towards basic operating costs, it still has a remaining war-chest of €2.05m.

The State could continue to pay for a teacher allocation of 25 to the school. The school could then reimburse the State. The school would have used €1.95m of its annual fee income.

It would still have a kitty of around €550,000 with which to employ nine additional teachers and thereby engineer the greater subject choice and smaller class groups that it has done, but in a manner that is not so crudely at the expense of the most marginalised.

With the continuation of these additional benefits, it is wholly reasonable to suppose that the majority of parents who send their children to fee-paying schools would continue to do so. Perhaps some would even be happy to pay increased fees to further bolster the additional privilege on offer.

John MacGabhann is General Secretary Designate of the Teachers Union of Ireland

Irish Independent

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