The growth of private schools could be halted if the state stopped paying the salaries of their teachers, it was claimed today.
New figures show one in three pupils in Dublin is now attending a private secondary school, with annual fees of up to €4,000, compared to one in four pupils 20 years ago.
The Labour Party said the Department of Education should review the €85m it paid to private schools each year for teachers salaries and grants.
Education spokeswoman Jan O’Sullivan TD said: “Considering the difficulties in financing the public sector, I think we have to question the amount of money going to private schools.
"Because so many parents are sending their children to private schools, it’s making it more difficult for public sector schools to get a balance of children from different economic backgrounds.”
All of the main private schools recorded large increases in pupil numbers over the last two decades, with a 63% increase in pupil numbers at St Andrews’s secondary school in Booterstown, a 59% increase at Loretto, Foxrock and a 50% increase in Castleknock College.
In contrast, pupil numbers have dropped at state schools, particularly those run by the Christian Brothers. Private schools now take in 32% of all students in Dublin, compared to 24% in 1983-84.
Ms O’Sullivan said this trend would accelerate unless there was Government intervention. She added that Education Minister Noel Dempsey had announced a review of state supports for fee-paying schools but that nothing had happened since.
The state pays the salaries of teachers at the country’s 59 private schools but most are not entitled to the capitation grants for buildings and facilities which are available to state schools. The exceptions are the 21 Protestant schools, who receive capitation grants and other financial supports.
The Association of Secondary Teacher of Ireland (ASTI) said the growth of private schools reflected the country’s increased prosperity.
ASTI board member and past president Pat Cahill said: “People have a lot more money now and they believe when they’re paying for something, it’s better. In actual fact, that may not be the case.”
He said the fee-paying schools had two main advantages: the extra resources to provide more extra-curricular activities and the perceived ‘old boy’ network.
He said the growth of private schools was a threat to the education system.
“It would be sad to see it going down that way because the points system, regardless of what you say about it, is totally fair. Anybody who gets the points for a course will get in, regardless of where they’re from.”
Mr Cahill said the ASTI, which represents teachers in both private and state schools, did not support the ending of state salaries to private teachers.
“It would cause more hassle than it’s worth,” he said.