THEY NEED YOUR [euro]100M; That's What the State Gives to Fee-Paying Schools. but, Insists This Past Pupil, It's All Money Well Spent

Daily Mail (London), January 18, 2011 | Go to article overview

THEY NEED YOUR [euro]100M; That's What the State Gives to Fee-Paying Schools. but, Insists This Past Pupil, It's All Money Well Spent


Byline: by Tom Doorley

OF course it's a controversial issue, involving as it does two highly emotive elements: Children and money. You could argue there's a whiff of the politics of envy, too.

All in all, the provision of State funds to the tune of [euro]100million a year to support the nation's fee-paying schools is attracting a lot of criticism. Ireland is one of the very few countries in the world to pay the salaries of teachers in private schools and, many would argue, this should simply stop.

The pitch needs to be levelled, all of the children of the on (to quote the Constitution) should be cherished equally and so such a socially divisive policy is an evil that must be rooted out forthwith.

Well, do you know what? Despite all the righteous indignation, it's just not as simple as that. I have a lot of experience of private schools, first as a pupil, then as a teacher and finally, now, as a parent.

Patchy I was sent to one of Ireland's most famous schools, Belvedere, the Jesuit establishment which has turned out such a diverse range of old boys including James Joyce and Terry Wogan, Garret FitzGerald and Ian Dempsey.

I have a vague idea that the annual fees, when I went to the preparatory school there in 1968, amounted to [pounds sterling]80, or a little over [euro]100. Nowadays Belvedere charges some [euro]5,000 a year.

It wasn't a particularly good school in those days but my parents chose it, I think, because it offered Latin and Greek and sent most of its progeny on to university.

Most of us blithely assumed that we would become doctors, lawyers, accountants and the like and, in the event, a lot of us did. Despite very patchy teaching and the fact that I was bored rigid during most of my time there, I'm quite sure that Belvedere gave me confidence and introduced me to a wider world. Boys came from all over Dublin, so I had friends scattered around the capital.

And it was actually socially quite mixed. Some pupils were very well off (one, who has since featured in one of the tribunals, drove himself to school in his own Mercedes) most were solidly middle class, but some were seriously hard up, with parents who did without themselves in order to send their sons there.

Belevedere was certainly no universally wealthy bastion of privilege in my day. The notion that fee-paying schools are only for the rich simply didn't apply.

After university, I spent five years teaching at what was then and still is Ireland's most expensive boarding school, St Columba's College in Rathfarnham (where the current fees are [euro]22,000 a year).

I taught the sons and daughters of millionaires, farmers, clergymen, academics and expats and I loved every moment of my time at this quirky, liberal, old-fashioned school.

Interestingly, the students regarded being 'flash' with the trappings of wealth as not really acceptable and many parents found themselves selling off the odd field in order to meet the fees. Many parents, however, didn't have any fields at all. Again, being at St Columba's didn't mean that your parents were rolling in the stuff.

And now, of course, I'm a parent. If I lived in Dublin, my children would probably go to the local Protestant-ethos comprehensive.

As it is, we choose to send them to a Quaker boarding school, the ethos of which is broadly in tune with how we think. It costs a great deal of money which we can ill afford and it means considerable sacrifices.

Most parents whose children go to such schools are used to making sacrifices. It's a question of priorities. …

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