- The Story of our Three Schools. A walking tour by Raymond King
- National Heritage Week in Ardclough. Saturday 30th August 2014.
This event is being organised under the auspices of Ardclough Community Council in connection with National Heritage Week 2014. It is not intended to be a treatise ion the history of education in this area but what I hope to do is to put the story of the development of Primary education in this area into a local and national context and to highlight some events and tell the story through the eyes of some former pupils and present pupils. Watch here a tree planting ceremony on the grounds of the 1949-2013 National School, later the Village Centre.
As a former Principal and teacher in the area I have come to know a little about the educational heritage of the area and am learning as we speak. In preparing for this event I have become even more aware of the rich legacy of the past and having been involved personally am also aware of the tremendous potential for the future, as the wonderful new school opens and begins a new era in the life of Primary education in Ardclough.
I am not a historian and have only delved into the work of others to produce this information leaflet. Hopefully it might provide the impetus for further study by more competent and informed persons in the future. The main focus of this project are the three buildings which housed Primary Schools in this area, which we are lucky to still have, all in very good condition. This confines us to the period beginning circa 1800 to the present day.
It might be no harm to give a brief mention to what was happening nationally, politically and educationally at this time in Ireland, as it has a large influence on what happened locally. Across there was a move towards greater state involvement in Education. Britain was slow to follow but began in the 1800s to address the issue of education for all children in England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland.
In 1831 a Board of Commissioners for Education was set up to introduce Primary education across the whole island.
The Penal Laws had badly affected the education of members of the Catholic Community. Catholics were not allowed to send their children abroad to be educated, as some had been doing S, to the Irish Colleges on the Continent. Neither were Catholics allowed to set up a school or to teach Catholic children. However, these regulations were relaxed towards the end of the 18th century and fully removed with Catholic Emancipation in 1829. They had been ignored in many cases anyway with the setting up of “Hedge Schools” all over the country and indeed in actual buildings in many cases.
The government at the time realised it was time to adhere to the adage “if you can’t beat them, join them”. This they did through the setting up of the “national School “system under the Commissioners for Education in 1831. Lord Stanley Assistant Secretary to the Viceroy was responsible for this project. They wished to control the learning of the children, by directing the teaching and teaching methods.
School in the 1800s.
The Commission published textbooks and was responsible for monitoring any school directly funded by them. They also attempted to take control of teacher education, which they did for some time. Their biggest fear was that the “churches” would establish separate “denominational ” schools. So they decided that all children of all religious denominations would be “educated together” for all secular subjects, (all subjects other than religious instruction). Ministers of the various denominations were welcome to visit the schools to teach their particular students at an appointed time. Does this not essentially embody the ethos of our new and ever successful “Educate Together” schools who have just opened three secondary schools this year? It is only 180 years ago after, all since this idea was floated.
The main emphasis was to be on numeracy and Literacy as these were viewed as essential for industrial progress. The introduction of the National School system went in tandem with the introduction of an organised police force, the RIC in the 1830s and attempts to have a National health system. However, there was serious opposition from all the churches which in large favoured “Denominational Education”. They were all afraid of their members being “Proselytised” (poached!!) by the other! However they all wanted to avail of the funding from the State and managed to do both because the State need local funding to successfully manage the system
Each school was vested in a local “Patron” who would normally be the Bishop of the area and the local clergyman would act as manager of the school in their area. In return the local a. community had to contribute a portion of the costs of running the schools and this system lasted up until the 1990s with sometimes disastrous consequences for local communities, particularly in disadvantaged areas.
The State controlled the curriculum. The content was factual and avoided any reference to an Irish context. The aim was to create a loyalty to the English government and Sovereign. Irish Language was absolutely not allowed to be spoken or taught. The Commissioners, even at this stage realised the importance of the language in developing an “Irish” identity.
Promoting Literacy and Numeracy remained the primary objective of the system and this met with significant success. In 1841, 53pc of the population were illiterate; in 1901 this was down to 14pc. There were five grades of reading books with factual material, grammar, natural history, geographical material, and biblical stories as part of the material included. The progress of students through the system was often measured by what book they were on. This phrase lasted for many years in the system.
Schools were encouraged to have gardens and teach basic facts about agriculture and elementary science. In 1870, 83 National schools had gardens and some had farms attached.
The rules in relation to the teaching of Irish were relaxed so that any student who wished to learn Irish could do so, after school hours and pay for it themselves.
About 34pc of teachers were formally trained. Many were ex clerical students. There were very serious requirements of teachers: “teachers had to be persons of Christian sentiment, imbued with the spirit of peace, obedience to the law and loyalty to the sovereign”. See list of teachers salaries in 1880.
- Teachers were not allowed to “keep a public house” or “Take lodgings therein”. They were not allowed to attend, “Meetings, fairs, markets or meetings for political purposes”. Teachers were to abide by the maxim “a time and a place for everything and everything in its proper time and place”.
- They were to keep attendance records, report books, and registers. They were to teach according to the approved methods as laid out in the various manuals provided and use only those methods sanctioned.
- Teachers were to promote and practise the virtues of cleanliness neatness and decency.
- Teachers were to inspect children’s faces, hair and clothes daily.
- They were to look after school requisites and property.
- Teachers were to sweep, ventilate and whitewash the school apartments as required.
- History lessons were to be exclusively about Ireland, to develop best traits of national character and inculcate national pride and self-respect. “In the administration of Irish education, it is the intention of the new government to work with all its might for the strengthening of the national fibre by giving the language, history, music and traditions of Ireland, their natural place in the life of Irish schools”.
As time moved on ever increasing pressure was brought to bear on schools to be the “engine room” of revival. There was a serious problem though. Of the 12,000 teachers in the system in 1922, only about 1,100 had a bilingual cert, which means that they were capable of teaching in both languages and another 2,000 had an ordinary cert. The rest were essentially unqualified or untrained teachers. Where to now?
In 1934 the curriculum was lightened to allow for more time to be spent on the 3Rs and many of the other subjects fell by the wayside. Teachers were challenged to master the skills of the language, with training courses and spending time in the Gaeltacht areas encouraged.
In 1943 Eamon De Valera introduced a compulsory Primary Certificate examination for all Sixth class pupils. This remained in place until 1967.
Because the emphasis was now mastery of written skills and not on oral language this, in the opinion of many contributed to diminishing rather than uplifting the standard of Irish nationally.
Since the 1960s.
Since the 1960s we have seen many changes. In 1971 a new child centred curriculum was introduced, which marked a complete departure from the old austere methods of the previous 60 or 70 years. Once again schools were to be places where children could learn in safe happy environments. A programme of national renovation and capital investment in Primary education coincided with the growth of populations in cities and towns all around the country. There had been no real programme of this sort since the t late 30s and 40s when the school beside the GAA pitch in Ardclough was built in 1949.
- 1971: New Primary School Curriculum :
- Child Centred; . Learning and teaching closely linked to the stages of development of the child (Piaget).
- Class sizes reduced;
- Children promoted more fairly through the system as there was now also free Post-Primary education;
- 1975 Management Boards, representative of local communities formed. (About 140 years after it was first mooted!)
- 95pc of schools state funded;
- Attendance nationally 91pc on average
- Funding: mostly funded by the State. Fundraising still necessary for all school communities as costs of running modern facilities mounts.
- Subsidised/Free transport scheme introduced;
- Grants for equipment, books, extensions etc.;
- Inclusion of children with Special Needs in Mainstream schools;
- Employment of Special Needs Assistants;
- Modernisation of buildings and resources;
- Introduction of Information Technology:
- Standardised Testing: Results to Department of Education and Skills regularly;
- Schools inspected regularly, planned and unplanned.
- Parents much more involved in the life of the schools;
- Teacher training much enhanced. A teacher needs to score over 480 points in the Leaving Cert to qualify for a place in training and must spend fur years doing so.
This concludes the national picture side of the story. I will now give a brief summary of how all these events impacted on the community here in Ardclough.