Note: This article was written for the Diocesan Magazine in October 2019 but the information below may be useful again this year, particularly the examples of how eligibility is calculated .
The closing date this year is 30th November 2020.
For up to date 2020 information please see https://secgrant.ie/
BOARDING SCHOOL GRANTS – IS YOUR CHILD ELIGIBLE?
Have you a child/children in primary school and would like them to go to a boarding secondary school with a Protestant ethos? Worried about the cost and wondering what grants are available?
If so, you may find information about what’s called the Protestant Block Grant Scheme very useful. This means-tested financial aid is funded by the State (the taxpayer) via the Department of Education and Skills.
It is defined as a scheme that enables students to attend a school whose ethos accords with their faith tradition.
The grant scheme is administered for the Department of Educations and Skills by the Secondary Education Committee (the SEC) which was established in 1968. 51 denominations, including the Church of Ireland, are on the list of approved churches that can apply for funding under the Protestant Block Grant Scheme.
The list of schools in the scheme totals 21, two of which are in this diocese – Kilkenny College and Newtown School.
The other schools are Alexandra College, Bandon, Drogheda and Dundalk Grammar Schools, High School, Midleton College, Monaghan Collegiate School, Rathdown School, Royal School Cavan, St Columba’s College, Sandford Park, Sutton Park, Sligo Grammar, St Andrew’s College, The King’s Hospital, Villiers, Wesley College, Wilson’s Hospital School and the Royal and Prior Comprehensive School.
The one-stop shop application office for all the Protestant churches and the single source of information on eligibility and other information is the Secondary Education Committee’s website www.secgrant.ie
The 11-person Board of Directors of the SEC is chaired by The Reverend Katharine Poulton.
The Board has representatives of the four religious patrons of second level schools under a ‘Protestant’ management in Ireland, namely the Church of Ireland, the Methodist Church in Ireland, the Presbyterian Church in Ireland and the Society of Friends (Quaker).
The administrator of the scheme is Dr Eimhin Walsh.
The SEC is an independent charity that has a core purpose of allocating grant aid to facilitate and allow parents from Protestant faith traditions to send their children to a Protestant second level school.
Grants are allocated through a means-tested process in accordance with strict criteria and are paid directly to the relevant school to off-set school fees.
The allocation of all grant funding is subject to the oversight of the SEC and is audited annually by Deloitte, with further annual reporting to the Department of Education and Skills.
The grant can be used by the student to help pay boarding costs and/or tuition fees where the recipient attends a fee charging school. It can also be awarded toward boarding costs where the student attends a Protestant school in the free scheme that provide boarding facilities – Wilson’s Hospital School, the Royal & Prior Comprehensive School, Kilkenny College and Newtown School.
Depending on your net reckonable income, grants range from €150 to €3081 for day pupils and €2508 to €8217 for boarders. See tables below:
|Number of Children
|1 child @ 3rd level
|2 @ 3rd level
|3 @ 3rd level
HOW TO APPLY
How do you know if you are eligible? The criteria are as follows:
- The child is verified by a SEC recognised protestant church as being a member of that church
- The school being attended is on the list of SEC recognised protestant managed schools
- Applicants must be taxpayers in the Republic of Ireland and/or in receipt of payments from the Department of Social Protection in the year prior to applying
- Remember – boarding grants are only available when the distance from home to school is more than 20 kilometres
It is a three-step process:
Step 1: Applicants receive an email from the SEC with a link to the registration form, which must be downloaded onto your PC, completed and submitted by email. If you are a new applicant, you must request the link for the Registration form from the school that your child is attending.
Step 2: Registered applicants will be emailed an Application form to complete online and email to SEC
Step 3: Also Print and sign the Application form, have the religion verification signed and post to the SEC, enclosing copies of tax/financial information as requested.
Cut off times after which the online service will be unavailable:
Step 1 Registration – closing date midnight 30th November 2019
Step 2 Application – online closing date midnight 14th January 2020
Step 3 Printed Form with verification documents received by SEC – 14th February 2020
Once your application has been means tested, you will receive confirmation by email on successful completion of the three steps above
You will be informed of the result of your application by email in late April/early May.
Secondary Education Committee,
PO Box 12924, Dublin 14
Technical assistance with application process: firstname.lastname@example.org
Other queries: email@example.com Telephone : 01- 5514693
Note: Please email or post. Telephone answering times are limited.
MEANS TEST CALCULATOR ON SEC WEBSITE
There is a means test calculator now available on the SEC website to give you an idea of whether or not you are eligible. See https://secgrant.ie/means-test-calculator/
BREAK OUT BOX
Comment from Dr Eimhin Walsh, SEC administrator:
The SEC grants are designed to help Protestant families access Protestant schools. Mindful that as a religious minority in Ireland, not every county has a free Protestant school, the SEC administers the Protestant Block Grant on behalf of the Department of Education and Skills in an effort to enable Protestant families to choose Protestant schools and to reduce some of the associated financial burden.
The two general criteria for eligibility are that one parent is a member of a recognised Protestant church, and that the family’s means falls within a certain range.
We verify religion through a process whereby a minister must sign your application form, and we verify the family’s level of need by conducting a comprehensive but fair means test.
BREAK OUT BOX
A straw poll of rectors suggested that the SEC application signature process can be challenging for them on occasion. It’s no problem when the family are committed members of a parish and are known to the rector but not quite so easy in other circumstances. Each union/group has its list of parishioners and while the applicant parent may be on what can be an extensive parish list the rector may not actually know the person if they do not attend church services or contribute to parish life. Some clergy spoke of it being an uncomfortable situation. “It can be a bit intimidating,” one also said. “I would have difficulty in signing for people that I don’t know but I often feel that I have no option but do so.”
HOW THE CALCULATIONS ARE DONE
Here Dr Eimhin Walsh explains how the calculations are done.
“We take an applicant’s gross household income, including pay/self-employed income, social welfare and non-taxable sources like maintenance contributions or support from family and friends,” he says. “We verify this through bank, social welfare and revenue documents.
We then deduct tax, PRSI and USC.
We then deduct a Dependent Children Allowance, which varies depending on the number of children and whether they are at third-level. Then we deduct the amount the family pays in rent or mortgage payments. Sometimes families have special circumstances like medical bills, and we can deduct these in certain circumstances.
We also factor in a family’s property and liquid assets. If the family has savings or investments valued at over €80k, we include anything in excess into the means test.
If the family has a second property, to be eligible for a grant its net value (ie market value – outstanding mortgage) must be less than €375,000. We do not include the family principal residence, family business or farm in the means test.
The final figure we arrive at is what we call Net Reckonable Income. If this figure is less than €60,000 the applicant will qualify for a grant.”
He gives three fictional examples:
A two-income family with two children, one is in school and one in third level.
Gross income €90,000. Net (after tax) income of €75,000
Have Liquid assets (i.e. savings or investments) of €70,000.
Have mortgage repayments each year of €25,000.
Applicants received a band* 7 boarding grant of €516
Single income family. Two children, one in secondary school, one in primary.
Gross income of €15,000
Maintenance from other parent of €6,000
Annual Rent of €2,000
Applicant received a Band 1 boarding grant of €8,217
C: Two income family. Two children, both in secondary school.
Gross income €55,000, net income of €45,000
Mortgage repayments of €10,000.
Family own a holiday home valued at €450,000 with a remaining mortgage balance of €150,000.
Applicants receive two Band 3 boarding grant of €5,136 per child
*See www.secgrants.ie for more income band information.
Chairperson of the Board of the Secondary Education Committee, The Reverend Katherine Poulton says:
“The Board encourages people to apply for the available money. If the criteria are met, this can be a great financial help.