The Minister for Education and Skills, Ruairí Quinn TD, has published a report entitled “Fee Charging Schools – Analysis of Fee Income” which examines the discretionary income available to the 55 fee charging schools in the country. The findings of the report will inform future policy decisions about the nature and extent of exchequer funding provided to fee charging schools.
The report was compiled by the Department in 2012, using data provided voluntarily by 55 fee charging schools, as part of the 2011 budget . The data provided was not subject to verification or audit and individual schools are not named in the final report.
The background – “Private” schools versus free schools
Over 40 years ago, the Minister for Education, Donogh O’Malley brought about the removal of charges to students in the majority of schools. These schools then become known as the “Free Scheme” and are awarded additional exchequer funding in return for the school ceasing to charge fees. As part of the Free Scheme, these schools cannot impose payments on students as a condition of enrolment or continued attendance.
At this time, a number of voluntary secondary schools chose to remain outside the Free Scheme and retained the entitlement to charge fees. As the report states: “The Department effectively granted each of those schools a licence to continue to charge fees, to determine the level of fee and to make admission to the school contingent on payment”.
In October 2007, a decision was taken that no new fee charging schools would be granted recognition. As a result, the number of schools permitted to charge fees has not grown and currently represents 7.6 percent of the 723 post primary level schools. The State pays teacher salaries in both fee charging and Free Scheme schools.
Details included in the report
- Fee charging schools currently have €81.3m available to them, above that which is available to similarly-sized schools in the Free Scheme.
- On average, the discretionary income available to each fee charging school is €1.48m.
- The discretionary income of fee charging schools can be used to: privately recruit additional teachers; invest in capital improvements; or spend on extracurricular activities.
- The income of fee charging schools varies considerably depending on the individual school ranging from €112,000 to €4.7m.
- Budgetary decisions since 2008 have resulted the suppression of an estimated 4,450 posts in primary and post primary schools.
- In 2012, teacher salaries, across all primary and post primary schools, cost the exchequer €3.78bn.
- In 2012, teacher salaries made up 70 percent of the overall pay budget for the education sector.
- The current staffing allocation in fee charging schools is one teacher for 21 students.
- The ratio was raised by 1 point in 2009 (from 19:1 to 20:1) and another 1 point in 2012 (from 20:1 to 21:1)
- Recent Budget decision will see the ratio raised further to 23:1 in September 2013
- In comparison, the teacher to student ration in the Free Scheme is 19 to 1.
The McCarthy Report, published in 2009, recommended changes in exchequer funding for fee charging schools. The Government seem to be taking this recommendation on board with the report stating, that: “the extent to which teaching posts can continue to be allocated to fee charging schools must remain under consideration”. In line with this, the Report of the Special Group on Public Service Numbers and Expenditure Programmes, commissioned in 2008, recommended increasing the staffing schedule for fee charging schools to 28:1 in respect of exchequer-funded staff.
The Minister will now consider the findings of the report and the data collected will be used to inform future policy decisions regarding the extent of exchequer funding provided to fee charging schools