19.08.2020: Mullen calls on Minister for Education to “reverse discriminatory move against fee-paying schools”

Independent Senator Rónán Mullen today called on the Minister for Education, Norma Foley, to allow fee-charging secondary schools to access the Covid-19 funding package for re-opening schools on the same basis as schools in the free scheme.

A Department of Education circular ruled that fee-charging schools would not be eligible to receive money from the €375 million made available to help schools enlarge classrooms, employ extra teachers and pay for other safety measures. The Department later conceded that fee-charging schools could apply for the funding but that decisions would be made on a case-by-case basis.

But Senator Mullen, who brought the dispute to public notice in the Irish Independent last week, says the Department’s approach lacks transparency and puts an unacceptable administration on schools already struggling to re-open safely and on time.

“The Department has given school managers – principals and deputy principals – a virtually impossible task. The Minister should keep in mind that giving someone more work than they can reasonably do is one of the definitions of workplace bullying,” Mullen said today.

“Children attending fee-charging schools already receive less support from the State for their education. But this is the first time a decision has been taken that could give some schools nothing. A move like this in the middle of a public health crisis, with money allocated to keep children, teachers and other school staff safe, is an example of really bad decision making.”

“It reflects a negative attitude within the Department of Education towards parents and families who supplement their children’s education through school fees. The reality is that many fee-charging schools do not have big reserves built up, and many of the parents to whom they must now turn, if this decision is not reversed, to make their schools safe may be already hard-pressed financially.”

“Health and safety must be the priority now, not ideological moves on school fees,” Mullen said.

“It is not clear whether the Minister for Education knew about this move in advance, or whether the Cabinet signed off on it. But the Government must now take responsibility and reverse this discriminatory move on fee-paying schools.”