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Private school fees climb above €10,000 for day pupils as sector criticises ‘exclusion’ from State grants

Cost of sending children to fee-charging schools has risen for most parents this year

The cost of sending a child to a fee-charging school has risen by up to 17 per cent this year amid criticism from principals over the “exclusion” of the private sector from a growing number of State grants.

Most of the 49 private schools in the sector raised their charges by between 5 and 17 per cent this year.

The most expensive school for day pupils in the country remains St Columba’s, Rathfarnham, Co Dublin, where fees edged above €10,000 for the first time (€10,258, up 6.5 per cent on last year).

It is followed by Cistercian College, Co Tipperary (€8,600, up 4 per cent), the King’s Hospital, Palmerstown, Dublin 20 (€8,484), Alexandra College (€8,472, up 6 per cent), Rathdown School, Co Dublin (€8,200, up 5 per cent) and St Gerard’s in Bray, Co Wicklow (€8,169, up 5 per cent).

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Private schools receive their income from a combination of fees charged for students and grants from the Department of Education worth €112 million last year to pay the salaries of most teaching staff.

However, private schools receive less State funding per student compared with schools in the free sector on the basis that they can also rely on private income, according to the Department of Education.

* The table, above, includes fees for fee-charging schools who responded to queries from The Irish Times on their charges for the current school year only. It was updated on December 18th to correct a factual inaccuracy.

Principals say the policy has since extended to their “exclusion” from a growing number of grants, including free schoolbooks for students and, last month, free solar panels to help cut heating costs in schools.

Barbara Ennis, principal of Alexandra College in Dublin, an all-girls private school, said more costs were being shouldered by schools and parents as a result.

“This is about ethics, morality and fairness for tax-paying parents, who are simply making a choice,” she said.

The Joint Managerial Body, which represents voluntary secondary schools, has argued that fee-charging schools are a successful example of public-private partnerships and are a net contributor to the economy. It said recently that most parents opting for such schooling made sacrifices based on their belief in education and their children’s future.

“The Government’s decision to reduce funding for teachers in fee-charging schools will ultimately force the State to provide for students, and indeed whole school communities, in the ‘free scheme’ at an even greater cost,” it said.

“There is no such thing as ‘free’ education – either the State pays, or parents pay. Schools in the fee-charging sector, where parents pay much more, save the State money.”

The Department of Education, however, said the policy of providing lower rates of funding to the private sector was in recognition that schools could generate their own income by charging fees.

Sinn Féin and Labour, meanwhile, have pledged to end all State subsidies for the State’s fee-charging schools over a number of years if in government.

Labour’s education spokesman, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, said a “toxic link” between money and education had far-reaching effects.

“Nothing perpetuates inequality quite like the Irish education system,” Mr Ó Ríordáin said. “Can we genuinely stand over a circumstance where money that could be prioritised elsewhere is being used to prop up schools that exclude those without deep pockets?”

Ronan Walsh, principal of Sutton Park School, a mixed fee-charging school in Dublin, said any move to withdraw funding would be very costly for the State if schools closed or thousands of students joined the free scheme.

“It’s way too simplistic a suggestion to close fee-paying schools because the State can’t afford to close fee-paying schools,” he said.

* The table on fees for fee-charging secondary schools was updated on December 18th to correct a factual inaccuracy.

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent

Vivienne Clarke

Vivienne Clarke is a reporter