BIG DEBATE: Should grants to fee paying schools be cut?
Friday, March 08, 2013
The figures show state-sponsored privilege in education must be ended, writes Gerard Craughwell
By Gerard Craughwell and Ferdia Kelly
THE Teachers’ Union of Ireland welcomes the publication by the Department of Education and Skills of the long-awaited report analysing the fee income of fee paying second-level schools.
The report completely vindicates the union’s long-held position that it is unacceptable that the State should sponsor privilege in the form of funding for the teacher allocation for these schools.
We, in TUI, have consistently called for fee-paying schools, aside from minority-faith schools, to be required to repay the cost of the teacher allocation which they receive from the State from the fee income they collect, subject to retention of income equivalent to the capitation grant that a school of similar size in the state system would receive. Addressing the funding situation in this manner would allow the State to continue to provide a teacher allocation to the schools, thereby enabling the teachers to retain their status as public servants.
The report shows that fee paying schools have over €81m in discretionary income to spend on extra teachers, ancillary staff, state-of-the-art facilities and extra-curricular activities. Access to such facilities is off limits to the majority of students in Irish education.
Therefore, quite clearly, the situation whereby fee-paying schools enjoy a double funding mechanism falls short of any test of fairness or equity. Crucially, the €81m in discretionary income is what remains after the cost of unpaid fees and discounts, capital loan repayments and grants, and teachers foregone has been deducted from the fee income generated by these schools.
On the key issue of the number of teachers in a school, the report notes that schools in the free public education system must manage within their given state-funded teacher allocation. These schools are unable to employ additional teachers from private funding, in total contrast to fee-paying schools.
The employment of additional teachers, effectively state-subsidised, confers clear advantage on the already advantaged in the context of the Leaving Certificate, which significantly determines the life chances of our young people.
Even a cursory examination of the figures involved illustrates that many fee-paying schools could reimburse their state funding and still have more than enough money to offer smaller class groups, greater subject choice and a range of other privileges — all of this without abandoning their fee-paying status. On this point, given the rich revenue stream available to them, it is highly unlikely that these schools would move to the free public education system in the event of a reduction in state funding.
The figures in the report are stark. For every 21 pupils enrolled in a fee-paying school, the State provides one full-time teacher. The report considers the implications of adjusting the pupil teacher ratio to 28 pupils per teacher. Such a change would save the State around €28m a year. Due to their high levels of discretionary income, the fee-paying schools could absorb this adjustment, employ the same number of teachers as they currently have, and still have €61.7m per annum remaining in discretionary income.
Meanwhile, the €28m in savings to the State could be used to employ over 450 teachers in DEIS schools to tackle inter-generational educational disadvantage. Which option best serves our citizens and our society?
The Irish Examiner editorial on Wednesday disingenuously seeks to characterise the TUI arguments as silly, dishonest, naive, and ideologically driven. If it is silly and naive to demand equity and fairness, we plead guilty. The ideology of the union is to seek equity.
If parents, who are in a position to do so, wish to augment what the State provides to a school, they can of course donate monies to the school. TUI would welcome such parental support.
What is not acceptable to us, however, is that the schools that receive such support should shut their gates against the children of parents who can not afford to pay. Our objection is to the discriminatory policy of excluding those who can not pay and the use of taxpayers’ money to buttress this exclusionary policy.
There is no dishonesty in this view, in spite of its inconvenience in the “capitalist world” of the editorial.
Based on the irrefutable evidence in this report, TUI is now calling on the minister for education urgently to put a mechanism in place whereby fee-paying schools would be required progressively to repay the cost of their teaching allocation to the State.
*Gerard Craughwell is the president of the Teachers’ Union of Ireland
Keeping fee-charging schools gives families more options
One of the key principles of our education system is parental choice, writes Ferdia Kelly
THERE are 25,600 pupils in the 55 fee-charging schools across 14 counties, equivalent to 7% of the second-level pupil population. A notable characteristic of the fee charging sector is the wide diversity of size and background of school. These schools have made a significant contribution to the provision of educational opportunity for pupils at second level in this country. Of the fee-charging schools, 21 provide boarding facilities.
Teachers’ salaries in the fee-charging schools are paid by the State. They do not receive any other state funding. The 25,600 pupils in the fee-charging system have to be taught. Whether they are in fee charging schools or the free education sector, the State will be paying the teachers’ salaries.
The other key factor that must be clarified is the figure for net “discretionary income” outlined in the Department of Education and Skills report on Fee Charging Schools — Analysis of Fee Income. This “discretionary income” is derived from fees contributed by parents in exercise of their entitlement to choose a school for their children’s education.
One of the key principles of our education system, emphasised in the Education Act 1998, is parental choice. Parents choose a second-level school for their children for complex reasons — a broad curriculum, a record of high/positive achievement, a school with a particular faith trad-ition, a sense of care and good organisation, a long standing family relationship with a school, the local school, the option of a boarding facility and the co-curricular activities offered. Parents are aware that in making a choice to pay fees to schools, they are making a commitment for up to six years.
It must also be pointed out the Joint Managerial Body has conducted research which indicates that parents of pupils in the free education voluntary secondary schools contribute €3 out of every €10 of the annual running cost of the schools.
In providing a range of services for their pupils, fee-charging schools are major employers in their region. Any changes in the capacity of these schools to provide these services could result in a serious question mark about the viability of the school, leading to a risk of having to downsize or even close with the consequent loss of jobs.
Each of the 55 schools exists within and enjoys an excellent relationship with the local community. Each school is unique, with a different range of financial outgoings depending on the size of the campus, age and status of buildings (for example, listed), capital development projects and other special circumstances.
In the Department of Education and Skills report on Fee Charging Schools — Analysis of Fee Income, a figure of €23.55m is quoted as the amount of additional money that it would cost the State if all pupils in the fee charging schools moved over to the Free Education sector. An independently commissioned report compiled by PWC indicated that the real cost is much greater. PWC Report: 2nd Level State Cost per pupil — €4,552 (Fee Charging) versus €8,035 (Non-Fee Charging) — a difference in cost of €3,483 per pupil. Indeed the current arrangement of parents paying fees to a fee-charging school and the State contributing the salaries of the teachers is a successful and example of public/private partnership.
Should the parents of the 25,600 young people being educated in fee-charging schools transfer their children to Free Education schools, the State will not only have to pay the teachers’ salaries, but also the capital costs for buildings and capitation grants for the running of the schools.
A continuation of current government policy will result inevitably in a tipping point being reached which will cause parents to transfer their children into the free edu-cation sector, at a substantial increased cost to the State.
The fact that two fee-charging schools, Wilson’s Hospital and Kilkenny College, have recently moved into the free education sector illustrates the pressures that fee-charging schools have come under as a result of the severe changes in the pupil teacher ratio for such schools.
A core principle of the Irish education system is the right of parental choice — fee-charging schools are part of the exercise of that choice.
*Ferdia Kelly is general secretary of the Joint Managerial Body
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