Monday 9 December 2019

Fee-paying or free, improve all schools

'It’s not surprising that fee-paying schools provoke envy and anger, especially when one considers that the taxpayer subsidises them to the tune of more than €80m a year' (Stock pic)
'It’s not surprising that fee-paying schools provoke envy and anger, especially when one considers that the taxpayer subsidises them to the tune of more than €80m a year' (Stock pic)
Editorial

Editorial

Fee-paying schools are by definition elitist. They tend to have smaller classes, better facilities, and generally send a higher proportion of students to university than schools in the free education scheme.

A disproportionately large percentage of surgeons, doctors, dentists, lawyers and other professionals come from their ranks.

Who wouldn't like to attend a school in an old castle on 500 acres that has its own nine-hole golf course in Co Kildare, or one in the Dublin mountains that looks like a set from a 'Harry Potter' movie?

It's not surprising that fee-paying schools provoke envy and anger, especially when one considers that the taxpayer subsidises them to the tune of more than €80m a year, largely through the payment of teachers' salaries.

The knee-jerk reaction from some trade union and political sources is too often the populist solution of "abolishing" the subsidy and forcing these schools into the free education scheme.

But like many a populist idea, it's too simplistic. It ignores the reality that for historic reasons the main minority religious community in Ireland depends on fee-paying schools with a Protestant ethos to survive.

Abolishing the subsidy could destroy many fine schools, some of whose past pupils have done this State some service. And it would be a rejection of the right of hard-working parents to save and sacrifice to send their children to schools of their choice.

If the State was designing a school system from scratch, it would not begin where we are now. But rather than bemoaning the existence of fee-paying schools and their academic successes, our energies would be better served raising the education bar for all schools.

As the recent league tables of college entry points - published in the Irish Independent - shows, an increasing number of schools in the free education scheme are on a par with their fee-paying counterparts when it comes to rates of transfer to university.

In an increasingly complex and demanding world, the Leaving Certificate is no longer sufficient to survive and thrive in the labour market. All schools should encourage their students to get a post-secondary qualification, whether in further or higher education.

Instead of trying to level all schools down to the lowest denominator, we should be investing in our free education scheme schools and trying to equalise them all upwards to the standard of the best achieving school, whether it's fee-paying or not.

Restoring confidence in the public health service

The past week has raised concerns about the state of our health service. The record numbers of patients on hospital trolleys would put anyone in fear of having to be admitted to an A&E unit.

Beds promised previously are now being rolled out as the public backlash has sparked a belated response.

Whatever about what happens in the coming week, the important point is to restore confidence in the future of the public health system.

A situation cannot be tolerated where genuinely ill people in need of emergency department treatment are put off seeking care.

Irish Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Don't Miss