Opposition plans to abolish State funding for private schools will see fees surging and leave many more parents unable to afford them.
On Newstalk Breakfast this morning Shane Coleman and Jonathan Healy discussed what might happen if taxpayer funding was pulled from Ireland’s private schools.
It comes as new figures show that more than 27,000 students attended private schools in Ireland last year – the highest number on record and an increase of 6% over the last five years.
Meanwhile, figures revealed to the Labour Party under Parliamentary Question show that the State spent €558m funding private education between 2018 and 2023.
Both Labour and Sinn Féin have pledged to end State funding for private schools should they enter Government – and Shane said the proposed cuts need a proper public debate before the next election.
“It has kind of gone under the radar,” he said. “We haven’t really had the debate about this.”
“There is a very real possibility that Sinn Féin will be in Government next time around and if they were to abolish the €100m [annual] grant it would completely change the nature of private schools – fees would go up by a huge amount and it would be quite similar to the UK where fees are much higher.”
He said the debate is “tricky” because parents have many different reasons for sending their children to private schools.
“Personally, I like the idea of a wide social mix in schools,” he said. “The school I went to had everybody – all social classes and I think that is a good thing; I think it benefits society.
“But I understand and I have heard from parents who say to me they would have loved to send their kids to a State school but there wasn’t one in their area - particularly in Dublin - and they had to send them to private school
“I think there is a legitimate question to ask as to whether the State should be subsidising schools that already have more income than regular schools … I think it is a legitimate question to ask but I certainly think we should have a debate before a party gets into Government and changes the system.”
Jonathan noted that cutting the funding will see an influx of children coming back into the State school system.
“The State guarantees free education at secondary level for every child,” he said.
“Universality is very important. Even if parents can afford it, the school will always take the money that follows the student. That means that funding in private secondary schools for teachers goes on teachers.
“Yes, they have all the extracurricular stuff but if you take that funding out and parents have to pay more for the private schools guess what is going to happen?
"They’re not going to be able to afford to send them to those private schools anymore – they will be back into the system and have to get paid anyway.”
The State is set to pay €112m to private schools in 2023.