Wednesday, August 13, 2003

Teachers' salaries in private schools

Last week, the Minister for Education, Noel Dempsey, floated the idea that the state should not pay teachers' salaries in schools where fees are charged.

Writing in the Sunday Independent, John O'Keefe suggests that this plan is rooted in justice because ordinary taxpayers shouldn't provide benefits for the rich. Now, I don't know who John O'Keefe believes to be rich, but I know from personal experience that many of the people who send their children to fee-paying schools are not rich.

For a number of reasons, my daughter starts in a fee-paying school in September. We are by no means rich. And, based on observation alone, I doubt any of the dozen or so families in this area whose daughters go to the same school are rich.

People make choices as to what to do with their money. Some choose to pay for what they hope is a superior education (or one that more closely suits their values). Some people with a lot of money choose to send their children to no-fee schools and spend it on second cars or holidays or whatever.

O'Keefe says that the Minister's proposal is a stance for justice. But, I think real justice would see the Minister offer a certain amount in credit to each family to apply to their children's education - wherever they choose to send them. Let each school come to an arrangement with the teachers on salaries & staffing and whether they want to charge additional fees, etc.

I would bet my bottom dollar that if the Minister did implement such a change as he proposed, many parents, inluding us, would have to move our children out of the fee-paying schools to the free schools. I'm not sure there is that much extra capacity in the free schools to handle the burden. If not, then what?

Ronan Mullin goes through the real political difficulties in implementing the Minister's proposal in this morning's Irish Examiner.