How much do fee-paying schools save the Irish State?

On RTE’s The Week in Politics (7 Oct 2012), Minister of State Alan Kelly said that the principle of paying 55 fee-paying schools almost €100m annually must come to an end.

The Irish Times (8 Oct 2012) reports that an estimated €95.6 million (mostly through paying teachers salaries) goes to private schools, and the school raise an estimated €100 million from fees. They also quoted Fine Gael TD Eoghan Murphy who said that removing the subvention would not save the State money.

“Fee-paying schools in Ireland receive circa €100m from the government. This pays the teachers in those schools salaries for teaching the pupils and nothing more. The parents pay for the schools themselves and all the resources. By doing this they are taking this financial burden off the State – they are saving all of us money,” he said.

“Based on Department of Education figures, this saving is worth around €91 million euro to the government, and it is paid by individuals who have decided to spend additional money on their children’s education”

The Irish Examiner (8 Oct 2012) reports that private schools receive €277m annually in total from state support and fees. They quote Pat King, General Secretary of the ASTI, saying

“In a fee-paying school, the number of teachers is smaller, paid for by the State. They don’t get a capitation grant for students, they don’t get science grants, economics grants and there are other capital grants they don’t get.

“So if every fee-paying school in the country in the morning decided to become non fee-paying, the State would have to find and extra €30 to €40m a year to fund them.”

So how much do fee-paying schools save the Irish state?

Eoghan Murphy’s figures are similar to the ones quoted by Gerry Foley, headmaster of Belvedere (Irish Times, 20 Sept 2011) and David Quinn (Irish Independent, 6 Jan 2012). David Quinn stated on TodayPK on 11th January 2012 that the figures were from a Price Waterhouse Cooper report, commissioned by the fee-paying sector using Department of Education figures. The report does not appear to be available online.

These figures state that the State pays €4,500 per annum towards a student going to a fee-paying secondary school, while the cost paid in respect of a student in a non-fee-paying school is €8,000 per annum. A transfer from a fee-paying to non-fee-paying school would then be €3,500 per annum. Thus, it would cost the State €91 million if all 26,000 students in fee-paying schools transferred to non-fee-paying schools.

€100 million is cited as paid in respect of teachers salaries. The total amount paid to fee-paying schools in 2009 was €107 million, per this answer in the Oireachtas. Dividing this between 26,000 pupils, we get an average of €4,500 per fee-paying pupil in 2009 (see note below).€3,846. That leaves €654 extra unaccounted for; on TodayPK (15 Jan 2012) Kieran Allen said that private schools get additional State money in respect of supervision which presumably accounts for this difference. (see note below)

Turning to the average for non-fee-paying schools, the figures available at that time were from 2009-2010 (see the Department of Education website, spreadsheet for 2009-10, tab 3.22.) From this we obtain the following:

Total Expenditure €3,261.3 million
Less Superannuation (including Payment to Local Authorities in respect of Superannuation Charges) (€502.0 million)
Less Department overheads (€30.1 million)
Less Expenditure on teachers fee-paying (based on newspaper reports) (€100.0 million)
Expenditure on non-fee-paying only €2,629.2 million

The total number of students in second level in 2009 was 354,235, and subtracting the approximate 26,000 students in fee-paying schools, gives 328,235 students in non-fee-paying schools. For a total expenditure of €2,629.2 million, this would give an average of €8010 per pupil.

This may not be exactly how the figure was arrived at, but it is plausible since superannuation applies to teachers in both fee-paying and non-fee-paying schools and the DoE overheads would continue even if all schools were fee-paying.

Is this the end of the story? Not necessarily. The total outgoings for second level education that remains under the “non-fee-paying school” total includes such items as

  • Grants to Vocational Education Committees
  • Comprehensive and Community Schools – Running Costs
  • Grants towards Clerical Assistance in Secondary Schools
  • Secondary School Grants (Including Per Capita Grants towards operating costs of Secondary Schools)
  • Grants towards clerical assistance
  • School transport
  • Examinations
  • Special Initiatives Adult Education
  • Teachers In-Career Development
  • National Education Psychological Service
  • National Qualifications Framework
  • Schools Information & Communication Technology
  • Public Private Partnership costs
  • Miscellaneous Grants and Services

Some of these (eg. examinations) apply to both fee and non-fee schools. Most of the rest are unlikely to increase on a per-capita basis. Removing the items in italics (€342.5 million) from the “Expenditure on non-fee-paying only” gives a revised total of €2,286.7 million, and a revised average of €6,966 per student. That would suggest a cost to the state of €2,466 if a student transfers from a fee-paying school to a non-fee-paying school, or a total of €64.1 million if all 26,000 fee-paying students transferred to non-fee-paying schools.

This is obviously more than the ASTI’s figure of €30 to €40 million extra, which equates to between €1153 and €1538 per pupil. I cannot replicate these figures (for comparison, the capitation grant which averages at €350 per student, would be a total extra cost of €9.1 million).

It seems that €91 million is an overstatement of how much money fee-paying schools save the state. The true figure may be as low as €30 million or as high as €64.1 million (based on 2009-10 figures). It should also be noted that these figures assume all students would transfer. If half (13,000) did so, then the government would make a net saving (2009-10 figures) of over €67 million by paying no teacher salaries in the fee-paying school sector (assuming a cost of €2,466 per student), albeit at the price of throwing the educational system in chaos.

Note (added 10 Oct 2012): The total amount paid to fee-paying schools in 2009 was €107 million, per this answer in the Oireachtas. The answer also breaks down the total given, between current, capital and technology, and between the different salaries paid. Hat-tip to “Time to call time on State funding for fee-paying schools?”, an article by Eadaoin O’Sullivan on which outlines the money and history behind the current situation.

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