EXCLUSIVE | The report that spells the end of private independent schools

Independent schools will tell government to give parents €17 million in vouchers to send their children to private schools, or face shutdowns.

A declining birth-rate and higher salaries for teachers are threatening the very survival of private independent schools, a confidential report by auditors PricewaterhouseCoopers for the Independent Schools Association (ISA) has warned.

The ISA wants government to pay some €17 million over the next decade, in the form of tax credits or a “voucher system” for parents to send their children to private schools, and finance the ever higher cost of private education.

The ISA will tell government it already costs less to educate a student at a private school (€1,655 a year, compared to €2,217 for State school students), but it gets little help from the State. But if private schools close down, the cost to absorb these students into the Church and State schools would be as high as €3,000 per head, the ISA argues.

As the Junior Lyceum exam is phased out for State schools this year, and a €20 million Church school expansion expected to create 2,000 new places, the ISA fears a smaller supply of students will mean its members will have to either close down their schools, or significantly downsize their operations because of this 'loss in business'.

“The current financial situation facing the schools threatens their long-term viability… the spiral would be one of higher costs, reducing student population and sharp fee escalation, leading to further reductions in student numbers, until one is left with a handful of elite schools catering for a tiny minority of students,” the ISA warns.

The report ominously warns that if school fees increase, it will “increase family tensions as parents struggle to cope, together with a negative impact on the country’s birth rate.”

To ensure their survival, the ISA wants government to issue education vouchers to parents for a pre-established amount to part-pay tuition fees. The annual vouchers would be settled against income tax or national insurance contributions paid by the schools.

Government already offers parents who send their children to private schools some €2.7 million in tax rebates (approximately €395 per student) and spends some €200,000 a year on learning support assistants for these children.

With the ISA’s proposals, government subsidies would increase to €730 per student, “still considerably less than the comparable average costs per student in State schools,” the ISA argues.

The ISA is also ruling out asking parents – who pay an average €1,000 for kindergarten education, to €3,500 for secondary education – for more money. “The increases applied in the last two years have taken school fees to the limits of affordability… This opinion, which is strongly held by the sector, is born by the continuous communication with parents.”

Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi has described independent schools as a “crucial link” in the education system, and believes parents should have choice when it comes to their children’s education.

The ISA will try to win over the government’s support by saying that the State will have to pay anything up to €3,000 for each student to absorb them from independent schools, into government or Church schools.

The main reasons why the ISA says it may see its schools close down is mainly due to a 2009 collective agreement finalised with the teachers’ union, which increased their payroll costs by €800,000, but fee increases that year were not enough to absorb the increase.

Concurrently, a declining birth-rate will see the student population expected to decline from the present 58,000 to 53,000 in 2020. With the expansion of Church schools, independent schools are in a quandary over their very survival: while they cater for over 7,000 students now, they are not expecting more than 5,000 students by 2020.

By the end of 2010, these schools are altogether expected to incur €462,000 in net losses. By 2013, they will be losing €1.6 million every year.

Education provision in Malta
Unlike Church schools, independent schools receive little funding from the State. Church schools are funded by government in accordance with the 1991 agreement with the Holy See, which transferred the major part of its properties to the government. This year alone, the government will pay €38 million in teachers’ salaries from pre-primary, to post-secondary schools run by Church orders. The Church will create an additional 2,000 places with a €20 million expansion it will fund.

Admission to Church schools is administered by ballot, while those providing secondary education only admit students through the Common Entrance examination, which is to be discontinued as from 2011.

The State provides free education, school transport and textbooks for government school students, equivalent to 61% of the total student population up to Form V. At the end of primary school, students sit for the 11-plus exam, which will determine whether they are streamed into Junior Lyceums, or area secondary schools, which are now about to phased out.

As of 20111, Junior Lyceum exams will be stopped and students will progress from primary to one of 10 colleges completed in 2007.

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The church does not have an agenda at getting children at an impressionable age? Truth - I'm sorry, i don't want to sound rude - but have you missed the last 2000 years of men's history? Do you think the church is running their schools out of goodness of their hearts or because they are interested in children's education? The whole objective of church schools is to mould young minds and its crazy to even challenge this point. Dear Truth - the church hit upon the idea of targeting children even before Mc Donald! They are obsessed with children and part of the reason why the church has so many problems with child molestation is because of the very high level of easy access they have to children. When they say children are our future - its exactly what they mean. They are off course talking about the future their church. Its fundamental to the continuation of the power and privileges it enjoys.
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Joseph Grech
TRUTH has avoided declaring that he does not recieve any form of subsidies from the 'common pot' as he calls it. The indications are that he or she does! Yes, everyone pays (presumably he/she means income tax contributions) according to income. At an average of €2217 per child educated in a state school:- Anybody who sends one child to a state school and earns less than €24500 p.a. they are in reciept of a subsidy in kind from the common pot because income tax paid is less than €2217. Anybody who sends two children to a state school and earn less than €31900 p.a. they are in reciept of a subsidy in kind from the common pot because income tax paid is less than €4434 (€2217 x 2) The rebate given to parents who send their children to private schools is NOT a form of subsidy to private enterprises as when this subsidy was granted school fees did not automatically go up by that amount. It was an appreciation of the injustice of it all by the authorities. All of the comments against Government help to independent schools without doubt come from individuals who do not send their children to private schools. With single child parents having an income of less than €24500 sending their child to a state school and with those with two children with an income of less than €31900 need not worry that any of their income tax is going to subsidize our children’s education. They have already gobbled up their contribution to the common pot for their children’s education. Can you see the truth here TRUTH! Low income earners with children will not be contributing a cent to any subsidies given to parents sending their children to independent schools. Rather it is the income tax from higher wage earners (and yes it includes parents who are sending their children to independent schools) who would contribute to helping private schools. Or is there an inverse elitist attitude that the common pot would have less to distribute to those who are knowingly abusing our social services.
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Michael001 ever heard the saying that it takes a thief to catch a thief? CitizenX There should not be any good and better education. It should be the best and if government schools do not deliver the best then change the system to do so. Then no one can say that they have the need to send them to private schools. As regards grade A students I know persons who went to government schools who are learned Professors and others who went to private schools who never made any grades at all. Madoffi everyone pays according to his income and receives his needs from the common pot as someone else said. But when some try to get more because they choose to send their children to private schools then it's not on. Actually, a rebate given to parents who send their children to private schools is a form of subsidy to private enterprises and not to the parents.
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Albert Zammit
The many commenters who write here, appear to miss the main point: that it is cheaper to teach a student in a private school than in a state school. So, for the tax-payer, for instance, just to give this example, it would be cheaper to have all students being taught by the private sector than by the state. There are other silly ideas that have been mentioned. Such as: CitizenX - it's stupid to think that Church schools are trying to get children from a young age so that they can mould them. It shows how alien this subject of education is, to you. And how little you know about what's going on. Elitism - I doubt it. I rather think it is a question of parents putting education on a very high priority, something that many, many other parents would do well to do, as well. @ Truth - more stupid comments from you. The less you write, the better. First, study, then, write.
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I think the argument put forward by Truth is fair and valid. But allowing only rich parents access to better education - would that not actually create ELITISM? Was that not the way until recently in Malta - where the elite had access to education and the rest were denied the same opportunity? Also - the church has received millions of tax payers money from the state. I also fear that GonziPN has a hidden agenda to favour church schools over private schools. They are desperate to get their hands on children at a young age and mould them with ideas congenial to the church. The simple fact is that government schools do not deliver on par with private schools. It might be that maybe there is not enough separation of good students from bad students. I am sure that in our daily lives we are always making choices - judging, separating, grading. I don't see why good students should be sacrificed not to make bad student feel bad about themselves. What about the GOOD students - don't their feelings and future count as well? Also if i don't a service i paid for, i think i am entitled for a refund or a voucher - so i am not asking for other peoples money. So while making valid point - you might be playing straight into the hands of the elitist that you abhor.
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Joseph Grech
Truth has to declare in front of your readers that he is not in reciept of any form of subsidies. You are not by any chance one of those 30,000 households who get subsidized water and electricity are you? If truth is sending his children to a state school can he illuminate us and tell us where does the €2,217 expense to pay for each of his kids education is coming from? TRUTH, do you pay that much tax a year for every one of your kids. How much children's allowance are you getting? Me and others like me are paying both for our kids' education at independent schools and your kid's education too. I only hope that the state education will not turn TRUTH's kids with bigoted opinions like TRUTH's. TRUTH, do you have a free medicines yellow card or a pink card for free medicines? How much of the income tax you pay every year, after deducting what it costs to educate your kids, is left to pay for my kids' education. If TRUTH wants to hear some truth, it is likely that the funding being requested by the ISA comes from the tax payments of the very parents sending their kids to independent schools and not from the tax payments of the likes of TRUTH.
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CitizenX yes it is elitism by the snobbish parents who do not want their children to mix with the rest of the common citizens children. If you want to put your children in an elitist school you pay for them and don't turn on the rest of us to subsidize you.
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There is a lot to be said for free choice and there is a lot to be said for having schools acting as private companies competing for business. I would be against private schools being aided directly - but its a different matter if parents are aided and spending their voucher on the schools that gets their business. Problem with government schools is primarily the attitude of 'like it or lump it'. This was certainly the case with university for example and a big chunk of the the lecturers would have gotten the sack in a privately run university (maybe in a properly run country) Also, not all kids that go to private school are necessary spoiled brats. A lot of them deeply appreciate the sacrifice their parents are doing for them and put in extra effort in return. Finally, in this day and age, i don't think we see the 'weakest common denominator approach' as a viable option. They tried that - it was called communism and that is thankfully consigned to the trash heap of history. We do have a moral obligation to give every kid the BEST opportunity and also to give all kids an EQUAL opportunity. However, an equal opportunity does not mean putting all students in the same class - that is denying opportunity - to the ones that deserve it best. Vouchers, Scholarships etc should be made available to students who apply themselves to their studies so that they can in turn get a better quality of education - that is a good thing. And this is equal opportunity - because the vouchers, scholarships etc would be open to ALL, without prejudice to their race, religion or social class. Don't think for a minute that grade A students are born that way. It all comes down to hard work, dedication and sacrifices. Grade A students are also more likely to be engaged in activities that bring prosperity to a country when they grow up - especially in today's technology and information driven economy and the economy will in turn generate jobs for all levels of skills and education levels. Investing in our best and brightest students is wise and the right thing to do. And let's make sure we put safe guards to avoid elitism and waste of resources. Also there sound be a solid alternative to both government and church schools. Stop using the future of our kids and the future of a nation as pawns in a bigger picture of greed, lust for power and ideology!
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Luke Lapira
For goodness sake please do not keep on hammerimg it down that parents who send their kids to Independent Private Schools are paying for the educationof other children! First and foremost our taxes are paid in one pot which then dishes out monies to several ministries, one of them being the Ministry of Education (MoE). The MoE serves the purpose of all the education needs not just that of the State Owned Schools. For example All warrants are issued by MoE including those of the teachers who are employed by the Ministry. The standards, regulations, monitoring, licenses, sport programmes etc these are there for all. A tax rebate is given to parents who do not make use of the State Schools. Asking to fund private business by from public funds is definetly not on!
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Paul Caliigari
Truth labels parents of students attending private schools as 'snobs'. Thanks. Censinu labels them us as the 'elite'. Once again, thanks. I forgo luxuries, dining out and hobbies to pay for my childrens' education as I want to choose where to send my kids to school, and not try my luck in a draw. This does not mean that I discredit Government and Church schools. Far from it - they do a good job. But still, I prefer to choose where I send my kids to school. It is a matter of choice. Bertu seems to be living in another place. Education is not free at all - we pay for it through our taxes. So I not only pay for my childrens' education, I am also subsidising other childrens' education. Do you consider this fair? And not all independent schools are profit making (actually I wonder which one actually makes a profit). A look at the governing statute would shed some light.
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Joanne sultana
I am no elite, nor a wanna-be elite ! Consider me common people who make a huge sacrifice to send their children to the best possible education if this is available as a choice, whereby at the same time contributing taxes that are siphoned for Government schools / aid to Church schools.
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patrick calleja
There is only one system that comes out on top here of course always at tax payers expense and that is the Church school system. The government has to subsidy the planned Church school expansion to the detriment of state school and independent secular education. What this in effect means is that the government is more or less abdicating its responsibility for education and passing it on to the Church though tax payers will still fork out the bill even those that do not send their children to either system. What is more galling is that the so called " donation" private schools graciously accept is nothing else but a fee and no amount of semantic footwork will make it out to be anything other. This puts both state and independent schools at a disadvantage because church schools have an unfair advantage since they are subsidised and collect fees. It is a matter of having real choice too. Some may prefer having their children educated in a secular schooling system. In handing over primary state education to the Church the government is unfairly limiting choice. What is more it is not just the death knell for independent secular schools but also for state education. The caritas conference on poverty was an interesting forum where one could see that even some priests were troubled by this development and what it would actually mean for low income families. Essentially the moral anguish of such priests is that these families have no hope in hell of ever sending their children to church schools because lets face it they are fee paying schools, so much for social justice. Education authorities seem more interested in safeguarding the Church school system to the detriment of secular education. It does make you wonder! @ Bertu It's a question of choice Bertu. You can't not be aware that funding for state schools keeps getting slashed and will be even more constrained once the Church School expansion project picks up steam. The facts and figures speak for themselves too. Guess what. has it ever occurred to you as to why Maltese education authorities have consistently avoided participation in the OECD PISA surveys ( Programme for international student assessment) even though Malta is a member of the OECD?`(http://www.pisa.oecd.org). Lots of non member states participate because economically it makes sense to audit their education system. Why the avoidance if our educational system is as strong as some would have us believe? PISA should be a piece of cake for Maltese education no ?
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Joanne sultana
No Dear Bertu I have no financial or personal interest in Private schools. I am only interested in the best education of our children.
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Anthony Cachia
Yes it bothers me Mr OOPS! My point is, that we should good public schools so that parents like you are describing your self, don't need to 'carefully study how a particular school teaches' but be confortable enough and assured that public schools are the best! I am sorry but your way of thinking that free education ia a UTOPIA, puts me in a position to say that you have some sort of personal interest in the income of privat schools, more han the interest of your own children !!!
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Jean-Claude Pace
So the elite, or rather wanna be elite, wants to be subsidised by the common people?
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If snobbish parents choose to send their children to private schools then they pay for their tuition. The Government offers free (paid for through our taxes) education. As far as the Church Schools are concerned, the government is abiding with its agreement where the subsidies are to make good for the property the Church handed over to the government. If the Government is offering free meals and I choose to go to a 5* hotel and enjoy a lavish dinner I cannot expect the Government to pay my bill. The same applies to those who send their children to private schools. If you cannot afford it then send them to Government schools.
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Luke Lapira
Every choice we do has a price to pay and who makes the choice has to be responsible to pay the price! Parents who choose that their kids go to Independent Schools do so after evaluating the options available. There is govt granted benefit that they get a tax rebate. Increasing that rebate will not be fair in my opinion. One has to bear in mind that the Ministry of Education is not there for families whoose sibs attend State Owned Schools but is responsible to the whole education provision in Malta. For example MOE sets the minimum educational standards to all!! If students have a will to make it in life, they will surely make it to whatever level they desire irrispective if hey attend an Independent, Church or State School....After all practically all the teachers were qualified from the same one University. My last comment is that Independent Schools are there as a profit making entity and hence it is not justice that their profit making agenda is lumped on the general public but it should concentrate on its service users.
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Joanne sultana
And so it bothers Mr Bertu if Government assists private schools ??? Yet you are not at all bothered with the burden of Government and Church schools capital and recurrent expenditure, no matter the performance of the students that come out of some of these schools. Even though not everyone sends his children there, we all fork out the money needed for Government schools out of our taxes ! As if Government schools are funded out of a bottomless coffer ! Where do you think the Government school funds come from ??? I send my child to a particular Private school not because I am well off and can afford it comfortable but because as parents we carefully studied how this particular school teaches and we are happy with the results, no matter what huge sacrifice we make for our child. If Church schools are assisted financially then why not the same aid for the Private schools which are doing a good job. Unfortunately we still lack confidence in Government schools notwithstanding the effort made by the Education Department. Auditors PricewaterhouseCoopers' report is more revealing than your HOPING for a "free" Education UTOPIA, which is nothing more than crass hypocrisy.
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Anthony Cachia
So the ISA is telling us all to carry the burden of these schools even though we don't send our children there ???... More, they are practically telling the GOV to pass them the money from public funds so that they will continue in their business.... For me it is better if the GOV invests whatever the sum in the Public schools HOPING THAT EDUCATION WOULD BE FINALLY FREE FOR EVERYONE AND THAT EVERYONE COULD HAVE EQUAL OPPORTUNITIES NO MATTER FROM WHICH SOCIAL CLASS THE STUDENT IS COMING FROM!!!!