Governance and Funding of Voluntary Secondary Schools in Ireland

Governance and Funding of Voluntary Secondary Schools in Ireland, Merike Darmody, Emer Smyth, ESRI, Dublin, 23 October 2013

23 October 2013


Governance and Funding of Voluntary Secondary Schools in Ireland

This study presents a comprehensive picture of educational governance and financing across the three different sectors of second-level schools in Ireland, namely, voluntary secondary schools, vocational schools, and community/comprehensive schools.     Research Findings on State Funding:

  • The three school sectors are funded through different mechanisms:

    • voluntary secondary schools receive per capita grants for their students from the Department of Education and Skills (DES);
    • vocational schools receive State funding in the form of a 'block grant' which is allocated to Educational Training Boards (former Vocational Education Committees) that distribute funds to their schools;
    • community/comprehensive schools negotiate a budget with the DES on an annual basis.

These differences result in a lack of transparency, making it difficult to compare school funding on a like with like basis.

  • New survey information from school principals indicates a disparity in the government funds available to, and costs to be covered by, the different kinds of schools.
    • Insurance costs of vocational schools are paid centrally by VECs. Insurance of community/ comprehensive schools is covered by State indemnity while these are paid by individual schools in the voluntary secondary sector.
    • Pay for non-teaching staff is covered by the VECs and community comprehensive schools while secretarial and care-taking in voluntary secondary schools are not fully covered by grants, with any deficit covered by the school.
    • Principals of voluntary secondary schools are more likely than those in the other two sectors to spend the capitation grant on secretarial services, lighting, security and insurance than those in other sectors.

Research Findings on Voluntary Contributions:

  • Voluntary secondary schools are more reliant than other schools on sources of income such as fund-raising or parental voluntary contributions, sources which are likely to be particularly vulnerable in the current economic downturn.
  • This study provides the first systematic evidence on the prevalence of parental voluntary contributions: 87% of voluntary secondary schools receive such contributions compared with 62% of community/comprehensive schools and 49% of vocational schools. The levels of contributions also tend to be higher in the voluntary secondary sector, with half asking for €150 or more per year, while the levels of contributions in the other sectors tend to fall between €50 - €75 per annum.
  • Over half of all schools use their income from parental contributions for school maintenance. Voluntary secondary schools are more likely to use this income to pay for secretarial services and security than other school types.

Research Findings on School Governance:

  • Governance models differ across Irish schools: voluntary secondary schools are increasingly governed by lay School Trusts (which have taken over from religious orders), community/comprehensive schools are under the joint trusteeship of religious orders and the State, while vocational schools are under the trusteeship of the State through the Education and Training Boards.
  • At least some elements of the trusteeship function of VECs (now ETBs) are funded through the block grant and the centralisation of specialist services and expertise at ETB level reduces the need for specialist legal and finance capacities at the school level. The trusteeship function of community/comprehensive schools is also indirectly covered by the State. In contrast, the trusteeship function of voluntary secondary schools is paid for by religious orders or School Trusts.

Policy Implications

  • This study highlights the need for greater transparency in the funding of school governance and running costs. This would require changing the basis on which such information is reported and recorded, facilitating comparison of schools across second-level sectors.
  • The reliance of voluntary secondary schools on parental contributions puts them at a disadvantage in the context of the current recession. The future funding of second-level schools needs to take this into account.
  • The trusteeship function for voluntary secondary schools is paid for by School Trusts and religious orders, whereas this function is indirectly funded by the government in case of the other types of second-level schools. The funding regarding the trusteeship function needs to be reviewed in the context of declining religious personnel.

Prof. Emer Smyth (ESRI) commented that: “Our study shows that, compared to vocational and community/ comprehensive schools, voluntary secondary schools are more reliant on contributions from parents who are facing other financial pressures in the context of the current recession.”

Dr. Merike Darmody (ESRI) noted that: “This research adds to the growing international debate on State funding of second-level education and specifically on how denominational schools are being funded. Drawing on experience from other countries, it shows the difficulty in balancing school autonomy and funding.”

Elizabeth Manning, Director/Trustee, Educena Foundation said: “We welcome this comprehensive report and its findings and international comparisons. We are confident that the report will form the empirical basis for a rational policy debate for the post-primary sector going forward”.

Note to Editors: 1. Governance and Funding of Voluntary Secondary Schools in Ireland, by Merike Darmody and Emer Smyth (ESRI) will be published online on the ESRI website at 00:01am Wednesday 23 October. 2. The aim of this study is to provide the first systematic analysis of variation across sectors in the governance and funding of second-level schools, drawing on in-depth interviews with key stakeholders as well as a nationally representative survey of principals and chairpersons of boards of management. In particular, it focuses on denominational voluntary secondary schools – a privately-owned but publicly-funded sector in Ireland. This Study was commissioned by a number of Trustee bodies of voluntary secondary schools.

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