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Social segregation supported by the Irish state? Why yes. That’ll do nicely, thanks. September 19, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Housing, Social Policy, Society.

There can be little more loathsome in domestic news than that in the Irish Times noted by Frank McDonald. He writes that:

DUBLIN CITY Council’s contract for the failed public-private partnership project to redevelop O’Devaney Gardens, near Phoenix Park, envisaged separate creches for the private and social housing that would be built on the estate.

Now remember, this was a project initiated by Dublin City Council, not by private developers – not that the latter case would have been satisfactory. There is some suggestion in the report by McDonald that this was due to pressure from the local community:

One of the architects who had been involved in tendering for the project told The Irish Times he was “quite taken aback” by this specification because it clearly indicated that children would be socially segregated at an early age.

“It would be a form of apartheid,” he said. “When we raised this with city council housing officials, we were told that it was being done at the behest of the local community.”

It would be interesting to have this latter point parsed out. Because the next statement is that:

Tenants of the estate were involved in drawing up the development brief.

The opacity in the report means that it is unclear as to whether these were pre-existing tenants in private or City Council housing (although later in the report it appears to be the former). In either eventuality such a proposal would be wrong, and doubly so that the City Council would accede to it.

That too is unclear since:

A spokesman for the council said there was “no substance” to suggestions of social segregation in the project as “no detail was worked up with regard to the provision of a private creche as such”.

Although note the use of the term ‘private creche’ which might cover a multitude.

Intriguingly one of those who went to tender for the development but failed argued that:

Corcoran Jennison, a Boston-based property firm that tendered for the PPP before it was awarded to a consortium led by developer Bernard McNamara, said it proposed integrating the creches under a single arrangement.

“This was one of the simplest and most effective strategies for successfully integrating families of all incomes and racial backgrounds. It was also one of the most economical,” Corcoran Jennison said in a critique of the council’s housing design guidelines.

Indeed. Basic good sense some might argue.

A spokesman for the company, which developed and still manages the Harbour Point housing estate in Boston, said it was at a loss to understand why council officials also insisted on separate blocks for social housing tenants.

“They are opposed to the alternative of mixing social housing and private sector residents and use the term ‘pepper potting’ to describe this approach. They will have none of it, apparently on the basis that middle-class residents wouldn’t accept it.”

What is intriguing is that in the Boston development there would appear to be a greater tolerance than in Dublin for ‘pepper potting’. On an anecdotal level this doesn’t surprise me. The over-developed sense of ‘other’ that is engendered in the Irish middle class can be a sight to behold – although let’s not get too misty eyed about the Irish working class which can also demonstrate similar tendencies. And let’s also note that – as any with experience of same will know – the creche system is ripe for this sort of social distortion.

Already we see a society where social divisions are artificially exacerbated by our education and health systems. That this may be extended to childcare in the manner proposed in this article is simply unconscionable, and that is to put to one side the developing iniquities in child care in terms of barriers to access through costs.

For more on creches and the social context consider this and this and this.

Meanwhile on a related/unrelated issue, what are we to make of the following?

Interesting questions asked in the Irish Times letters page yeserday. Following on from the interview on Wednesday with ‘affable’ ‘genial’ Minster of Education Batt “owner of the worst greyhound in Ireland” O’Keefe we learn that he believes that…

On fee-paying schools : “If I was to withdraw State funding from fee-paying schools, that would have a catastrophic effect. The issue is not under examination.”

Er… come again. Why? If they truly are ‘private’ schools then why on earth should the state pick up the tab? And if it has to why not extend this ‘funding’ to other private entities such as golf courses, yacht clubs or the Worldbystorm Social Foundation.

And as Louis O’Flaherty, IIRC one time President of the TUI, noted, Would the Minister care to tell us if the matter has been examined and rejected and, if so, what were the reasons for its rejection? If it hasn’t been examined, how does he know a withdrawal of State funding would have a catastrophic effect?

While Padraic Kavanagh noted that:

It’s amazing that not even a 3 per cent funding cut is possible for private schools, yet a 3 per cent cut to the School Completion Programme (which is aimed at the most disadvantaged children) is no problem at all. Maybe he should ask himself his own question: “Why would we the taxpayer be funding the children of people who could well afford to pay [for their exclusive schools] themselves?”

It’s also worth bearing in mind that at least the universities are open to all, whereas private schools are only open to those who can afford them.

But surely this is indicative of a political, and societal, passivity to actually tackle embedded areas of privilege. That or a craven inability to actual reach towards some measure of social equity in education, or as we’ve seen above in childcare.

And remember, these are the folks who are talking about bringing a referendum on children to you sometime soon. Words. Just words.


1. Seán Báite - September 19, 2008

Ah the good auld sod – you just keep giving me reasons to want to go back WbS :->
For someone in parts foreign that isn’t exactly up to speed with this proposed ‘referendum on children’ what the hell is that about ?
Will it be the W.C.Fields wording people will be voting on ?
Or just a simplified ‘Children – yes or no ?’


2. ejh - September 19, 2008

1. Tell me more about this greyhound, it’s not on his Wikipedia entry.

2. One assumes the WorldbyStorm Social Foundation is a bar tab?

3. Pepper-potting. Had to look that one up, but when I did I was surpised to find there was a name for it. From 1974 (when I was eight) I grew up on a Stevenage housing estate which mixed privately-owned and council housing and nobody seemed to think this was unusual or even worthy of comment. Though in retrospect I bet most of the private lot voted for Thatcher in 1979 in order to put a stop to that sort of thing.


3. Joe - September 19, 2008

It would make you want to puke wouldn’t it? What about those residents of Ballina in Co Tipp who are picketing the house the Council bought to house a Traveller family? Did anyone hear them on the radio: “We’ve nothing against this family, our kids go to school with theirs, this is a protest against the Council for not consulting us… and it’s a health and safety issue, it’s not safe for children to be in this house cos there’s a road beside the footpath outside the front gate.” Puke, puke, puke.
Going back to O’Devaney Gardens, there just might be something in the idea that the two creche solution was informed by residents views – I would guess that the community there might be fearful that their community would be broken up by the redevelopment and might have said something like “We’d like our kids to be kept together so that their friendships would endure.” Which might make perfect cover for the Council / Developers who want to pander to middle-class prejudices re “mixed” development.
And lastly Batt O’Keeffe. I agree his defence of fee-paying schools is to be condemned. But his rationale for putting third level fees back on the agenda – that he could gather in a few hundred million from very well off people which could be invested in education services for the disadvantaged – is to be applauded.


4. D. J. P. O'Kane - September 19, 2008

Aye, because those millions are *sure* to be reinvested in education services for the disadvantaged, aren’t they?


5. Joe - September 19, 2008

Spot on DJP. I may be thick but I’m not stupid enough to believe that just cos an FF minister says he might do something, that he’ll do it.
And I’m not as silly as the economist who did the sums for the Minister and who came up with savings of 530million only to do a recheck later and realize that he’d made a booboo – the correct figure should be 130 million.
130 million so, which the Minister says could be spent on education for the disadvantaged but which will probably just go back into the pot to be spent by a government which has overseen a massive increase in the gap between the rich and the poor over the last 15 years.


6. crocodile - September 19, 2008

I have no kids, and if I had I wouldn’t send them to fee-paying schools, but the guy next door does, and here’s his argument. As a taxpayer, he’s entitled to exactly what he gets: the salaries of the teachers and capitation grants. Where the fees go is the the extra-curricular activities, the hockey pitches etc. The school has no better pupil/teacher ratio than the non fee-paying school nearby and the teachers are paid identically.
‘If they truly are ‘private’ schools then why on earth should the state pick up the tab?’ asks wbs. Well, they’re not. They’re voluntary secondary schools. The ones that select academically at entry and the ones that simply cram for exams deserve the ASTI and TUI’s odium. The rest – the majority – don’t. And we don’t ‘subsidise’ them.


7. WorldbyStorm - September 19, 2008

I’d suggest that the answer, or reply to that is as follows. The state has limited resources. It should therefore allocate them to state schools, or at a push the non-fee paying voluntary secondary schools. If a school wishes to set itself outside of the state system through payment of fees, selection, cramming (which let’s face it aren’t just about ‘better’ facilities but are about erecting financial barriers to entry to the school in order to sustain their social cachet) then they’re on their own. Sure, your neighbour pays his taxes but there is a broader societal goal of equity and social mixing which superecedes that – not least because such schools embed privilege. Ideally I’d close those schools down, but since that seems to be nigh impossible in this society I’d suggest they get nothing from the state.


8. crocodile - September 19, 2008

That’s fine, wbs, and I share your view, if we were starting again from scratch to design an education system. But closing the fee-paying schools we have would save the taxpayer nothing. The children would still have to be educated, their teachers paid and presumably, new replacement schools would have to be provided.
I don’t think the Institute of Education type crammers do get state money and I don’t believe fee-paying schools get more than their share.
So there’s a social mix argument and an argument against embedded privilege, but not an economic argument or a taxpayers’ value one.
The ‘private’ education debate is often confused by the private medicine one. Private hospitals allow you to jump the queue and perhaps deprive others of treatment they need, just because you have the cash. As DJP O’ Kane says, though, there would be no additional resources to allocate to non fee-paying schools if all the fee-paying ones were shut down.
Then there’s the tricky question of the ethos of religious minorities…


9. WorldbyStorm - September 19, 2008

But surely there is an argument about saving taxpayers money. Why should a school which erects barriers to entry be able to avail of finance from the public purse? By definition it sets itself apart from the rest of the education system including – as I’ve noted – non-fee paying voluntary secondary schools. That it then – as ever with the private sector – turns straight back to the government to fund it is merely adding insult to injury. In effect it seeks to have the best of both words, socialise it’s running costs but privatise it’s entry system. Wretched and inequitable.


10. crocodile - September 19, 2008

I share the concerns about equity, but don’t follow the financial argument. Closing fee-paying schools would cost the taxpayer the money needed to replace them. Apart from the crammers, the fee-charging schools aren’t businesses in the sense that they don’t make profits. The public money they get pays the teachers; the fees pay for facilities. In what sense would closing them save public money? The children and teachers would still exist.


11. ejh - September 19, 2008

If the schools want to separate the hockey pitches and other extra-curricular activities from the rest, why not do that? Join the state system and then hire out the hockey pitches and the drama classes privately. Be a nice little earner I reckon.

Other than that, it joins the long list of “specious claims and arguments advanced by the private education lobby” and has the virtue of being one I hadn’t heard before.


12. sonofstan - September 19, 2008

I share the concerns about equity, but don’t follow the financial argument. Closing fee-paying schools would cost the taxpayer the money needed to replace them. Apart from the crammers, the fee-charging schools aren’t businesses in the sense that they don’t make profits. The public money they get pays the teachers; the fees pay for facilities. In what sense would closing them save public money? The children and teachers would still exist.

Well, yes, but there is a lot of duplication of resources currently thanks to the dual system. A few non- fee paying schools have closed in Dublin over the last few years with the boom in ‘private’ education, and quite a few more are seriously undersubscribed – which means resources paid for out of the exchequer are being underused while duplicate resources in private hands have restricted access – resources which may be paid for by fees, but which is only possible because the state picks up the salary tab. So removing – or privatising completely – the fee- paying sector would increase the take up of educational facilities paid completely by the state, and, with more pupils, and a wider social mix, schools could offer more subjects and better resources for remedial/ special needs/ non- English speaking pupils and the like. So, yes, the state probably would save a bit with the removal of the private sector and a better educational provision for all would be possible on the same budget.


13. crocodile - September 19, 2008

‘…the state probably would save a bit with the removal of the private sector and a better educational provision for all would be possible on the same budget.’
Good point, Sonofstan, if we were starting over. But imagine what it would cost to buy out 30-odd schools and replace them – only a handful of ‘free’ schools have closed due to competition from local fee-payers.

ejh: ‘the private education lobby’? Does he mean me?

Tune in next week. when I’ll be extolling the virtues of grouse shooting, issuing a few timely warnings about miscegenation, and saying a word or two in favour of droit de seigneur.


14. Joe - September 22, 2008

It’s complex that’s for sure. And there’s nothing like living the issue to bring it into more focus and test your socialist credentials. We sent our first two to the local national schools – one boys only, one girls only. I would prefer a mixed school but while I favour the idea of the Educate Together schools and I’m a bit of a Gaeilgeoir, I don’t like the segregationist aspect of both – and the missus can take or leave Educate Together and an Ghaeilge and she’s entitled to a say. The local girls school had a bit of a posh, good school rep but the boys school has a history of attracting boys from working class areas a bus ride away – so lots of our neighbours didn’t send their boys there! The irony is that its an old Christian Brothers School with a playing field, PE Hall and swimming pool, and the staff are absolutely top notch. Good choice, dad and mam!
So then on to secondary. The eldest is a boy. We didn’t like the secondary attached to his primary. We’d met the head once or twice and he just didn’t impress. And the reputation for results was poor. We went to an Open Evening there and an Open Evening at a nearby well-known fee-paying school. He came home from the latter and said “I’m going there” – he loved the atmosphere and everything about it. Cue socialist guilt pangs from dad. To get in however, the parents have to do an interview and then there’s a draw to allocate places. Dad asked a question at the interview about the contradiction between the Christian ethos of the school and the fact that it’s for the children of the middle class. Anyway, we didn’t get a place. Now he’s got no school to go to. The missus puts in a call to the Irish language secondary nearby, gets on great with the principal who is top notch and he’s in. So it’s a mixed secondary with good facilities, not fee paying, kids from middle and working class backgrounds. But no children of immigrants afaik, cos it’s Irish language.
So the boy and girl go there now and the young boy still in primary will probably go there too.
But it’s easy to prescribe when you’ve no kids, but I am loathe to criticise the choice any parent makes. Which wouldn’t stop me supporting any proposals WBS has on state organisation of schools and schooling!
Postscript: The eldest told us recently that his choice of college course is business and accounting. Where did I go wrong?!!!


15. ejh - September 22, 2008

ejh: ‘the private education lobby’? Does he mean me?

No, the chap to whom you referred…


16. WorldbyStorm - September 22, 2008

Joe, I feel similarly that it is difficult to criticise parents for choices on schooling, such things are contingent on many circumstances and that’s a bridge I’ve yet to cross. Oddly enough I’m more happy with the Gaelscoileanna than ET, although I take on board your point about the language potentially locking people out. Although the counter argument is the more people inside ensuring that the structures are accomodating those for whom that might present a problem is the way to go. My personal bottom line is that I won’t countenance a fee paying school. I also appreciate that I live in a city so my choices are greater than those outside one. But I also know the stats that broadly speaking parental influence is as crucial as the school itself. So I would be no more (and no less) worried about those issues than I guess I have to be.

crocodile, I may have this wrong, but surely sonofstan isn’t proposing buying out the private schools, but jettisoning them completely from state funding. In that instance it’s hard to see how that would constitute a nett loss in financial or other terms to the public sector. And although it’s problematic for those in such structures (and perhaps one could argue that it could be a phased withdawal by the state across half a decade) again basic equity would suggest that state funds should not go to any structures in education (or health either) that discriminate on the basis of fee paying. I think that’s both economic good sense and underpins an equitable approach to social integration which fee paying schools by their nature disrupt.

Incidentally I appreciate that you’re putting forward an argument on behalf of your neighbour.


17. Louid O'Flaherty - September 25, 2008


Louis O’Flaherty was a sometime President of the ASTI, not the TUI for whom he has a high regard.

Louis O’Flaherty


18. WorldbyStorm - September 25, 2008

Apologies. Still good to see the letter in the IT asking a very very good question.


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