Northern Ireland's preparatory schools are receiving a little-known subsidy from public funds, an academic at the University of Ulster has disclosed.
Dr Bob Osborne says the Department of Education last year made a grant of nearly Pounds 1.5 million for 3,100 pupils in the prep departments of voluntary grammar schools. The payment is coming to light as schools publish their figures under local management. This year the grant has been reduced from 50 per cent of approved teaching costs to 40 per cent. As a result the subsidy to the prep departments has been trimmed to just over Pounds 1.35m this year - an average of Pounds 432 for each of 3,129 pupils.
Dr Osborne argues in an article due to be published in the Journal of Social Policy that the subsidy is in conflict with the Government's policy of equality of opportunity and equal treatment for all people in Northern Ireland, since all the prep schools are attached to Protestant grammar schools.
It also, he says, creates an anomaly in the Government's Targeting Social Need policy, adopted in 1991 to direct spending more sharply towards the areas and people in greatest need.