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There were numerous advancements in post-primary education in Ireland beginning in 1878, and both the church and the state had a significant impact: History of Education Case Study, UCD, Ireland

University University College Dublin (UCD)
Subject History of Education

There were numerous advancements in post-primary education in Ireland beginning in 1878, and both the church and the state had a significant impact on these developments. Both institutions have had many influences on issues relating to Irish education. The Intermediate Education Act was passed in 1878. This marked the start of the state’s participation in Irish education. The board’s brief on this new legislation said that it was intended to create and oversee a system of public examinations, with fees paid to the head of the school when the results of these examinations were revealed.

The two significant amendments that were added to this bill were that it was extended to include girls ‘as far as conveniently be’ and that Celtic language and literature were to be added to the list of approved subjects. One of the limitations of the Intermediate Education Act is that it effectively copper-fastened the system of denominational schools that had formed by channeling state funds to all schools that met the examination criteria. This, in turn, was tied to financial issues because following exam success, some earned compensation, which increased the competitive nature of the exams and the reactions from heads of schools and the board. Another major disadvantage was that there was no mention or effort made to improve teacher quality and training, implying that teacher pay did not improve.

During the late eighteenth century and the early nineteenth century, there were several unauthorized school types functioning without Government permission which suggested that there had to be a solution to the existence of these schools. The Catholic church put pressure on the government to make the denominational aspect of education more regular and to make it more recognized in the eyes of the government during this historical period, which witnessed the confrontation between the church and the state. The church made representations to the Government through Powis Commission over different time periods while the Government was slow to make an official denominational system that excluded those who were not of the main religious faiths in society.

The Department of Education was founded as a national department of education after the McPherson Education Bill was introduced in 1919, and this was established as a national department of education, local education, local education committees, and partial funding of schools through local taxes. (O’Donoghue and Hardford, 2011) After independence in 1921, the power of the Catholic Church grew further as time passed in the 1900s. (Walsh, 2016) However, Cardinal Logue, the archbishop of Armagh, issued a ‘pastoral letter denouncing the bill’s initiative on the grounds that it threatened the temporal and eternal interests of generations of Irish children.’

The bill was withdrawn and in the years that followed, the free state was established, followed by the foundation of the new department of education in 1924, with Eoin MacNeill as the first Minister of Education. These new advances centered on more practical and technical successes within education. The 1930 Vocational Education Act was enacted to expand technical education courses of Church authority, allowing students ages fourteen to sixteen to obtain general education in this field before advancing their enrolment into technical education. This type of education was designed ‘to train young people for entry to particular employments and to improve the skills of those already employed.

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Throughout the 1950s and 1960s in Ireland, there were significant transformations taking place across the country. Many economic, social and cultural advancements occurred in Ireland during this period, affecting the industrial society and causing considerable changes in conventional values and attitudes. The Department of Education, in collaboration with the OECD, conducted a significant examination of the education system in 1962.

George Colley, the education minister at the time,  and the OECD organized a panel to assess Irish educational institutions and their aims. Unlike the council for education, the panel was made up of civil servants, academics, and economists, not educationalists. (O’Callaghan, 2009) the report made in 1965, Investment in Education, promoted the planned development of education while also contributing to the economic state of the country.

It was shown in this report that numbers attending these courses were increasing, however, vocational schools were restricted in what they could teach given in a statement by the Government to Bishop Keane of Limerick that there would be no links between both secondary and vocational school curriculums and therefore the vocational school ‘would not be allowed to develop so as to impinge upon the field covered by the denominationally run secondary schools’.

This then meant that the Catholic Church could not object, as there was to be no religious input to the vocational schools. 1980 saw the rollout of Community colleges, these were often set up through the VECs. While Clerics were no longer needed in the VEC, ‘those established through the amalgamation of Catholic secondary schools and vocational schools have the same management structure as do the community schools—that is, three clerical representatives in a board of 10 members.’ Special education needs too, were not looked upon until the 1960s.

It was not until 1998 under the Education Act (1998) that children with additional needs were accommodated in mainstream classrooms. Today in Ireland, the establishment of the Teaching Council introduced in 2006 promotes teaching as a profession at both levels primary and post-primary which has signaled a more standardized, professional, and regularised approach to teaching in schools and Colleges of Education.’

The Teaching Council is an essential establishment as students are entitled to the best educational opportunities possible providing them with successful opportunities in the future. Garda vetting is currently in effect to govern practices in the profession and protect the rights of children also.

Reflecting on this essay, it is clear that there was a huge emphasis on church-state relations within education in Ireland in the past. In the past ‘Colleges of Education in Ireland have tended to work more competitively than collaboratively’.When it came to social and political situations within society, the emphasis on industrial education was the major source of contention with the government; they thought that the emphasis on industrial education would result in a better economy and better working conditions. From the evidence, it can be seen that attendance in schools has increased tremendously over the decades. However, today there are still parts of Irish society who ‘do not see value in attending school’ because of factors including disadvantage and poverty.

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