Education – State subsidy for privilege

The Irish Times – Saturday, April 23, 2011
Fee-paying schools engaged in ‘apartheid’

SEÁN FLYNN, Education Editor

THE TEACHERS’ Union of Ireland (TUI) is to press for the withdrawal of State funding from fee-paying schools engaged in what it calls “educational apartheid’’.

In a move that will intensify pressure on Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn on the issue, the union is to demand an audit of admission policies at its annual conference next week. The last such audit in 2005 excluded the 56 fee-paying schools in the State.

The TUI says the new audit is necessary amid claims that some fee-paying schools are engaged in “apartheid’’ by excluding migrant children, Travellers and those with special learning needs.

Department of Education figures have consistently shown that provision for special needs and other minority pupils is largely concentrated in State schools and poorer areas. Some fee-paying schools have almost no provision for minority students.

The TUI move comes after Labour leader Eamon Gilmore signalled his unease about the increasingly “two-tier’’ nature of Irish education during the recent election campaign. Any move however to abolish State support for fee-paying schools would be resisted by Fine Gael Ministers.

TUI general secretary Peter MacMenamin said last night that the anger of teachers over the issue was growing. “Many of our members feel that certain schools are doing everything in their power to discourage those with special educational need, in blatant violation of equality and education legislation.” This, he said, was being facilitated by the department’s “inaction” on the issue.

Next week’s conference will hear motions demanding the abolition of what delegates label the €100 million “State funding of privilege” funded by the taxpayer. The leadership backs the phased withdrawal of funding from those schools guilty of discrimination.

Catholic groups are also increaing pressure on fee-paying schools to be more inclusive.

In a position paper on school patronage, the Catholic Schools Partnership, an umbrella group providing support for all partners in the Republic’s Catholic schools, said: “Catholic fee-paying schools must make serious efforts to reach out to socially deprived communities, to pupils with special needs and to foster an ever deeper sense of social awareness . . . Otherwise, they risk becoming a sign that is contradictory in terms of Christ’s mission.”

Ireland is one of the few countries where the State pays the salaries of teachers in private schools. This allows fee-paying schools to use fee income to boost its range of school services and facilities.

The department’s figures show that fee-paying schools received more than €100 million in support from the taxpayer last year.

Dublin’s Blackrock College received €4.2 million to cover the cost of 58 teacher salaries. St Andrew’s College, received €3.6 million to cover annual salaries for 52 teachers.

The 2009 McCarthy report on public service estimated that fee-paying schools generated about €100 million in annual fee income from parents. This income is over and above that generated by fees averaging over €5,000 a year for day pupils and up to €16,000 a year for boarders.