NINE holes of golf after school isn't likely to improve your exam results, although it may help to focus the mind. And nor is it the case that regular access to tennis courts and indoor heated swimming pools leads to academic success. However, research has shown that students attending fee-paying schools have a better chance of attaining high points in their Leaving Certificate and are more likely to continue their education at third level.

The impact of the divide between those who pay and those who do not, and whether this has any discernible impact upon achievements in later life, is difficult to gauge. But what is clear is that the facilities are better, schools are better resourced and class sizes are smaller. You get what you pay for.

An MRBI survey last year indicated that 23% of students in fee-paying schools were among an elite group who gained more than 500 points in the Leaving Certificate, compared to 4% of vocational school students and 11% of students attending mainstream state schools.

Enrolment at fee-paying schools has risen since the abolition of third-level fees, with parents who had previously set aside funds for college ploughing the money back into their children's education at second-level.

Figures released by the Department of Education last year showed that the number of new pupils in south Dublin's state schools had declined whilst enrolment in the area's fee-paying schools had steadily risen.

The country's 59 fee-paying schools received 77.5m in the academic year 2001/2002, an average of 1.3m each, most of which pays the salaries of teachers, with 9m paid towards the provision of secretarial, care-taking and supervision services.

The fees charged by the private schools go towards maintenance and facilities; they do not receive the capitation grant given to state schools, and in the case of boarding schools the fees pay for subsistence and 24-hour supervision.

Annual fees per student range from 3,000 for a day school and up to 12,600 for the country's most expensive boarding-school ? St Columba's College overlooking Dublin Bay, which generates approximately 3.8m in fees from its 300 pupils.

Nigel D'Arcy, bursar at St Columba's secondary school, said that government grants and subsidies were so small that the school was almost exclusively reliant upon the fees paid by students.

"In the last year, the amount we have received in subsidies is certainly less than 100,000, " he said. "We must fundraise every year in order to survive. We get nothing towards the cost of buildings, although we do get some small grants for the running of things like Leaving Cert supervision during exams." Margaret Hughes, accountant for Clongowes Wood College, said that the quota of students allowed for 22 teachers whose salaries were paid by the state, with the school employing an extra 10 teachers to provide additional subjects and extra-curricular studies.

"We do not receive any of the state grants provided for transition year or the Leaving Cert, and we must also fundraise each year, " she said.

The Minister for Education, Noel Dempsey has indicated that he is in favour of students from disadvantaged areas entering fee-paying schools, but has yet to put pressure on private schools to offer an increased number of scholarships.

Dempsey has said that he "intuitively" supports the idea of allowing people from disadvantaged backgrounds to enter private fee-paying schools, adding that because the state paid teachers' salaries, the government was in a position to demand something in return.

Fr Leonard Moloney, principal of the fee-paying Belvedere College in Dublin ? which charges just under 3,000 per year ? said the school was not in receipt of any government subsidies aside from the payment of teachers' salaries.

Of the 71 teachers in the school, 52 have their salaries paid by the Department of Education.

The remaining 20 teachers are employed by the school.

Last week, the minister insisted that the system remained unchanged and that he had no plans to curtail government spending on private schools.

"The payment of teachers' salaries is part of a complex scheme of funding for fee-charging schools which has traditionally sought to balance considerations of equity, pragmatism and support for minority religions, " he said.

"Teachers in fee-charging schools, irrespective of the denominational ethos of the school, are paid for by the state.

"The Protestant Block Grant was originally put in place to enable students of the Protestant religion to attend schools which reflect their religious ethos." Earlier this year the government launched its School Building Programme which committed 167.7m for building and renovation of primary schools across the country.

While schools across the country complain of over-crowding and under-staffing, the government is committed to spending 77.5m each year on fee-paying schools.

FEE-PAYING SCHOOLS

DUBLIN (37) John Scottus Secondary School, Morehampton Road, Donnybrook Blackrock College, Blackrock Willow Park School, Blackrock Rathdown School, Glenageary, Dún Laoghaire Castleknock College, Castleknock Mount Sackville Secondary School, Chapelizod Loreto Abbey Secondary School, Dalkey Mount Anville Secondary School, Mount Anville Rd Notre Dame Des Missions, Upper Churchtown Rd Christian Brothers College, Monkstown Park, Dún Laoghaire Loreto Secondary School, Foxrock Holy Child Secondary School, Military Road, Killiney St Joseph of Cluny, Ballinclea Rd, Killiney The King's Hospital, Palmerstown St Columba's College, Whitechurch Rockbrook Park School, Rockbrook, Rathfarnham Loreto High School, Grange Rd, Rathfarnham Sutton Park School, St Fintans Rd, Sutton Belvedere College, Gt Denmark St Gonzaga College, Sandford Rd, Ranelagh Catholic University School, Lower Leeson St St Mary's College, Rathmines St Michael's College, Ailesbury Rd Terenure College, Templeogue Rd St Conleths College, Clyde Road, Ballsbridge St Killian's Deutsche Schule, Roebuck Road, Clonskeagh Sandford Park School, Sandford Road, Ranelagh St Andrew's College, Booterstown Ave, Blackrock St Patrick's Cathedral GS, St Patrick's Close The High School, Zion Rd, Rathgar Loreto College, St Stephens Green The Teresian School, Stillorgan Road, Donnybrook Pembroke School, Pembroke Rd Alexandra College, Milltown Rosemont Park School, Temple Road, Blackrock Wesley College, Ballinteer Stratford College, Zion Rd, Rathgar CAVAN (1) Royal School Cavan, College St, Cavan KILKENNY (1) Kilkenny College, Castlecomer Road, Kilkenny KILDARE (2) Clongowes Wood College, Naas Newbridge College, Newbridge WICKLOW (2) Our Lady's School, Rathnew St Gerard's, Thornhill Road, Bray CORK (5) Midleton College, Midleton Christian Brothers College, Sidney Hill, Wellington Road Presentation College, Mardyke Scoil Mhuire, Sydney Place, Wellington Road Bandon Grammar School, Bandon WESTMEATH (1) Wilson's Hospital School, Multyfarnham LOUTH (2) Dundalk Grammar School, Dundalk Drogheda Grammar School, Mornington Rd, Drogheda LIMERICK (2) Glenstal Abbey School, Murroe Villiers Secondary School, North Circular Rd, Limerick MEATH (1) Franciscan College, Gormanstown MONAGHAN (1) Monaghan Collegiate School, Corlatt, Monaghan WATERFORD (1) Newtown School, Waterford SLIGO (1) Sligo Grammar School, The Mall, Sligo TIPPERARY (1) Cistercian College, Roscrea MEATH (1) The Abylity Secondary School, Carriage Road, Navan