Has the Covid triggered a revival of private schools?

When schools closed in the first lockdown in March 2020, they were catapulted into a large-scale distance learning experience. It was intimidating for most of the schools, but not for all.

Barbara Ennis, principal of Alexandra College in Milltown, Dublin 6, says her school has been “very lucky” with its spending on technology and specialist teachers.

“We had invested a lot of money in our infrastructure, in our teacher training, and we also employ two amazing e-learning teachers,” says Ennis of the school, who charges a fee of € 7,685 per year.

“I think we must have been able to look into a crystal ball and predict that because initially we closed on March 13 and were back to teaching full time, taking classes in our schools. secondary and junior, as well as in our nursery school on Mondays. And the feedback we have received from parents has been superb.

The private or paid sector has often bragged about its facilities, its heritage, its history and – more discreetly – the social leggings that have so long convinced parents to pay the fees.

This year, however, principals of paid schools say a key differentiator during the disruption imposed by Covid has been their ability to deliver quality education online or in person.

Many invested in distance education and were well equipped with digital devices. Research indicates that fee-based schools were also more likely than others to offer live lessons online, with higher engagement rates.

The comeback

At first glance, these times seem like good times for the private school sector, which appears to be enjoying a mini-recovery. As numbers plummeted during the recession, leading some to choose to join the free education program, enrollment in the paid sector has returned to levels last seen during the economic boom.

Enrollment in fee-based schools soared to more than 26,200 this year, the highest number on record.

Students from the Roscrea Cistercian College come to Saint Joseph’s Abbey in Roscrea for their annual Christmas carol service. File photo: Sean Curtin / Press 22

The latest admission statistics show that most private schools – especially those in the Dublin area – are heavily oversubscribed and have long waiting lists for places.

This is despite rising fees at most of the state’s 51 private schools.

An Irish Times survey shows that St Columba’s in Dublin remains the most expensive day school in the country, at € 9,174 this year.

It is followed by Sutton Park, Dublin 13 (€ 7,995); Cistercian College of Roscrea Co Tipperary (€ 7,850); Alexandra College, Dublin 6 (€ 7,685), St Gerard’s, Bray, Co Wicklow (€ 7,590) and King’s Hospital, Co Dublin (€ 7,550).

Among boarding schools, St Columba is also the most expensive for a seven-day boarding school (up to € 24,670); followed by Clongowes Wood College, Co Kildare (€ 20,800); Rathdown School, Glenageary (€ 20,600) and Blackrock College (€ 19,900).

Robust appearance

Despite the robust appearance of the sector, many directors of private schools are unhappy with the level of public funding given to the sector and say that discriminatory treatment is causing them real problems.

The pricing industry collects more than 100 million euros per year from the state in the form of salaries for teachers, specialist assistants and other subsidies.

However, the Joint Managerial Body (JMB), which represents voluntary high schools, says fee-based schools receive proportionately less support than other “free” schools because of cost-cutting measures introduced in the last recession.

For example, fee-paying schools receive fewer state-funded teachers, reduced guidance and counseling allowances, and are not eligible for a series of grants.

The difference in treatment is that private schools have access to financial reserves, unlike other schools. However, principals of paid schools say that is not necessarily the case.

“The idea is that we are all rich and rich with huge reserves of cash because most of us are located on Ross O’Carroll-Kelly land,” says a private school principal, who refused to give his name.

Glenstal Abbey in County Limerick.  Photograph: Arthur Ellis / Press22

Glenstal Abbey in County Limerick. Photograph: Arthur Ellis / Press22

“The reality is that we are struggling to hire additional teachers who we have to employ privately. Everything costs us more, because we do not benefit from state aid like free schools. All the money in the bank is being saved for badly needed capital investments because we are not entitled to these grants.

The principal argues that the fees charged for day schools are cheaper than a full-time nursery, which can cost parents up to € 12,000 per year.

“In some ways we are now overwhelmed by the state sector. We were previously associated with better facilities and a wider choice of materials. I don’t think that’s more obvious, anyway. “

Another director said the fee-based school sector was in bad shape for historical reasons.

“We are not private schools. We are part of the state system of voluntary secondary schools. For historical reasons, we did not opt ​​for the free program. But now we are treated as if we are a nuisance to the system. We are left behind in the cold.

The JMB, meanwhile, is seeking an independent review of the Department of Education’s policy on two-tier financing of the pay sector. Private schools recognize, however, that broader political support for their position is unlikely.


If there are challenges, most managers are more than happy to dwell on the opportunities.

While Covid-19 posed a particular risk for boarding schools, many point to unexpected benefits.

Edward Gash, principal of Midleton College in Co Cork, says there has been a strong sense of community as society adapts to social distancing and isolation. He says the school has had to make a number of physical changes such as the introduction of modules for boarders, isolation areas and reorganization of classrooms to allow for social distancing.

Unexpectedly, a large number of students ended up moving from school as day students to boarding school.

“There has certainly been an increase in the number of Irish students transferring to boarding schools, keen to maximize their exam preparation time, looking for a more suitable environment to study,” he says.

Gash has also noticed an increase in the number of international students seeking to enroll, which he believes could be linked to Brexit as international students who would otherwise study in the UK are now turning to Irish schools.

Cistercian College in Roscrea, County Tipperary, says it has placed a focus on wellness during the pandemic, encouraging students to voice their thoughts and concerns about the pandemic and the effect it has had on them.

“We have invested a lot in the wellness aspect to ensure that we provide a high level of pastoral care to our boys, and give them the opportunity to voice their concerns and learn coping strategies and mechanisms. “said Gavin Clark, president of Cistercian. University.

“And because this has been the most difficult time we can imagine for young people, and some of the challenges they have faced, we need to be aware of it. They need help to deal with this.

Clark believes that a boarding school environment has helped foster a sense of community among students, at a time when society at large faces social distancing and isolation.

“The sense of community is really, really important for young people to be surrounded by their peers and to be part of a community that helps them grow,” he says.

“A boarding school enables this growth in all facets of life, be it academic, athletic or cultural activities, where we can help them find their passions, talents and interests. “

Comments are closed.