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To fee or not to fee?

• I would agree with Patrick Cassidy's query (Letters, January 11) as to the reason for Education Minister's Ruairi Quinn's request for an audit of fee-paying secondary schools in Ireland.

I also feel that the debate on the issue lacks something in its objectivity and critical analysis. Do fee-paying schools cost the taxpayer money? Or more pertinently, how much money would the State save if it took away the €100m it provides in subvention to fee-paying schools?

And no, €100m is not the answer -- in fact it would more likely cost the State the vast majority of this figure if all fee-paying schools were closed in the morning.

A PriceWaterhouseCooper report, commissioned by a group of fee-paying schools, but based on figures from the Department of Education, has endeavoured to answer these questions. The information it generated makes interesting reading.

For a non-fee-paying secondary school, the cost to the State per schoolchild per annum is about €8,000. This figure drops to €4,517 when you look at the cost to the State for a schoolchild in a fee-paying school. If you accept that the 56 fee-paying schools have about 26,000 pupils spread about the country, the €3,483 less it costs the State to send a child to a fee-paying school as opposed to a non-fee-paying school results in a €90,558,000 saving.

So I'd be interested to hear how this extra cost of €91m would be generated by the State. In addition, how would the State provide places for these children -- the teacher-to-pupil ratio that is the subject of much discussion would rise significantly, unless the State was suddenly able to create 50 new schools.

In any case, such a scenario would inevitably lead to a poorer educational experience for the child and the loss of jobs for teachers. Surely a win-win situation for all in the educational system is to have more fee-paying schools, not fewer; in this way a figure in excess of €91m can be made available to the State to provide discretionary income that can be used to fund important educational initiatives, particularly in disadvantaged areas.

Mark Lawler
Address with Editor

Irish Independent