Private school ‘elitism’ masks staff's poor pay

The elitism in many fee-paying schools masks unfair treatment of some staff being paid up to one -third less than even the lowest-paid young teachers at other schools.

In the same week that three unions backed fresh campaigns to restore pay parity for those entering the profession on reduced pay since 2011, the ASTI decided to work harder to improve pay and conditions for privately-paid teachers at the 50-plus fee-charging schools.

A unanimous vote of delegates at its convention means a new committee is to investigate variations between those teachers and those paid directly by the Department of Education.

While most staff in fee-charging schools are paid the same salary scales as those in schools entirely funded by the State, the number is falling since successive budgets have increased the pupil-teacher ratio for the sector. This means that, in order to offer smaller classes or even to remain on par with other schools, they have to use more of their fees or other income to pay extra staff.

“Not all fee-paying schools treat their teachers badly, but many of them are elitist and yet they treat their staff as second-class citizens,” said ASTI ex-president Brendan Broderick.

The union’s honorary national organiser, Mary Ohle, said some teachers who had reached the seventh or eight point on the Department of Education salary scale — putting them on salaries up to around €40,000 — had been put back to point one of the scale when moving to fee-charging schools. She knew of some privately-paid teachers being paid €21,500 — a starting salary nearly €10,000 lower than the bottom-of-the-scale €31,009 paid to new entrants to teaching since 2012.

“Many of these teachers don’t see the point of joining a union when they are being paid even worse than newly-qualified teachers,” she said.

A new ASTI committee was elected yesterday to oversee pay and working conditions of these privately-paid teachers. It will make policy recommendations and report back to next year’s convention.

Niall Mahon of the Dublin North West branch said things have changed a lot in the 20 years he has worked at a fee-paying school: “There are misconceptions of what private schools are about. We are not sitting on leather sofas quaffing claret. This is not Eton or Harrow, we have fee-paying schools where grounds might be good and there is wider subject choice, but where teachers are not very well paid, particularly since changes to the PTR.”

Joe Moran proposed the motion for ASTI’s Tipperary branch, saying the average wait to move from being paid privately to department-paid has increased from two or three years since cuts to public funding.

For the last three school years, the department only funds one second-level teacher for every 23 pupils at fee-charging schools, compared to one for every 19 pupils in the majority that are entirely State-funded.

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