The decision of Kilkenny College to move into the public education system has aroused huge interest among other Protestant fee-charging schools.
They are keen to hear the details of that deal. Privately several say they now want to explore similar possibilities with the Department of Education.
As one school principal told me: “You’d be mad not to”.
RTÉ's Education Correspondent Emma O Kelly reports that fee-paying schools are eyeing up a move to the public education system
On Wednesday, the department confirmed that it was in preliminary discussions with five other fee-charging schools regarding a similar move.
Not all of these schools are Protestant. Monaghan Collegiate has confirmed to RTÉ News that it has spoken to the Department about a potential move.
Monaghan Collegiate is a small fee-charging school, charging comparatively low fees of around €3,000 per annum. None of its 250 students are boarders.
The school says cuts to state funding for teachers at private fee-charging schools is making life incredibly difficult. It says the general economic climate makes it impossible to turn to parents for additional funding.
The school says it has discussed the matter with the Department but nothing more.
Of course a school can only enter the free education system if the Department of Education agrees.
It is not known whether the Department would support such a move in the case of a small school such as Monaghan Collegiate. The Department says its door is open, to all schools, in terms of exploring options.
So what kind of a deal has Kilkenny College struck with the Department?
The State has agreed to pay for additional teachers on a short term basis to enable a smooth transition.
Like other fee-charging schools Kilkenny College employs a number of teachers directly, over and above those paid for by the State.
Schools in the free education system are not allowed to use private funds to pay for additional teachers, so these additional posts – the equivalent of around 12 full-time positions - will have to go
Around half of the teachers currently in these posts will be absorbed naturally into the school’s pupil teacher quota in September, replacing colleagues who retire for instance.
For the others, the school has negotiated what’s called a ‘transitional’ arrangement.
The State will pay for these surplus teachers until they too are "absorbed" into the school’s official quota. So there will be no redundancies.
The state has also agreed to take on debt repayments for a new ten classroom building with two science labs that was built in 2007.
There are those who will argue that all this represents favourable treatment for this school.
It is also costing the state money at a time when it can ill afford it. But both the school and the Department point out that, in terms of staffing, similar arrangements are often put in place for other schools who, for instance, need to keep an over quota teacher to teach a specific subject.
They say this is no different, and it’s a short-term transitional arrangement.
In terms of the new building repayments, the school and the Department say the state already pays the cost of school buildings in the free education system.
Clearly the move by Kilkenny College and potentially other fee-charging schools from private to public status will place an additional cost burden on the state.
The question is whether the payback, in terms of a more equitable system, and in some cases the very survival of a school, justifies it.
It’s highly likely that other Protestant fee-paying schools will now follow in the footsteps of Kilkenny College, and Wilson’s Hospital School which took this step two years ago.
They are likely to be medium sized schools with a majority of students as boarders. Schools like this are doing their sums, balancing what they’ve lost as a result of cuts against what they’re bringing in, in fees.
But are we getting a more equitable system as a result? Schools like Kilkenny College believe it’s changed status will widen access. But there’s an interesting webpage on the Wilson’s Hospital website.
It states; “Fees or Charges do not apply for tuition at Wilson’s Hospital School”. But it goes on to itemise a list of "services, activities and facilities" that Day Pupils may avail of.
They include the Mid-Morning Snack, the Mid-Day Meal, After School Study, the After School Recreation Programme. The bill for all this? €1,500 per annum, also payable in half-yearly installments of €750. Are charges like these just fees by another name?