History of Education

Symbolic of the Church-State relation and their ‘battle’ for control of post-primary education in Ireland in the 20th Century.

“church & state wall 4 6 19” by safoocat is licensed with CC BY-NC-ND 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/

Prior to commencing this module, I had very little knowledge of how the nature of Church-State relations defined and challenged the changing landscape of Irish education in the twentieth century at post-primary level. We soon learned how the battle for authority of post-primary schooling between the church and state and the effect this had on students was an ongoing issue for 19th century Ireland and how it advanced into the 20th century. Prior to the Irish Free State establishment of 1922, the state was still anxious to get a more direct role in the planning and operations of secondary schools. Coolahan (2017) further mentions the fending off of the Catholic Church schools to this effort with schools struggling on and suffering from gross inadequacy of funds. I think this is a clear example of the type of power-struggle that was happening during the early 20th century which was indirectly affecting/delaying the development of schools during this time. Coolahan also mentions the attempts of ideas of reform being voiced from time-to-time, but these were also stifled by the economic and political power play. These points are furthered by Titley (1983) in his book where he perceives in the intro that there had been two principal institutions that have claimed the prerogative of controlling the mechanisms of formal education which were the Catholic Church and the state. Titley (1983) makes note of the Catholic Church’s main goal while it has control of schools in Ireland when he states how Catholic schools, especially at the secondary level were the principal agencies for the recruitment of clergy.

Both Coolahan and Titley also mention the exclusion of laity in the decision-making in the running of the catholic schools. This exclusion and ability of clergy to decide on hiring and firing of school’s teachers in private denominational secondary schools meant that the Catholicity of the schools would remain intact, furthering the control and goals of the Catholic Church in terms of schooling. If the Catholic secondary schools’ priority was to recruit vocations to the priesthood and to religious orders of men and women, it obviously was not prioritizing the students needs in terms of education for the changing society.

From our session material and tutorials, we learned that the Catholic Church remained the driving force of secondary schooling well into the 20th century. Their roles were further strengthened as religion was a main future in the establishment of the Irish Free State in 1922, with many leading political figures in the native Irish government in the 1920s and 30s devout Catholics themselves and genuinely believed in the churches view of its educational mission (Titley, 1983).

From our sessions we also learned that technical education and the lack of was coming under scrutiny in the mid to late 1920s. Recommendations were made for the ‘conditions of apprentices that must be complied with if apprentices are to secure a uniformly improved training’ and recommendations also for ‘better training of those seeking the more important posts in trade and industry’ (DES, 1928). The changing of society and policy in Ireland to a more industrialized setting brought about change to the school system in Ireland. The introduction of vocational schools under The Vocational Education Act 1930 especially suited the working-class children of Ireland who were once limited to ‘sufficient’ literacy and numeracy of the catholic schools of the early 20th century (Coolahan, 2017). These children and adolescents now had the opportunity to earn a more practical, useful education from vocational schools which were established by the Department of Education. The establishment of vocational schools initiated by the state was a positive step in the direction of children’s education backed by Whitaker (1958) when he states how the Vocational Organization is more flexible than the Primary and Secondary systems. The establishment of Vocational schools to meet the needs of the industrialized Ireland was a positive turning point of the education system of Ireland in terms of loosening the control of the Catholic Church on secondary schooling.

T.K. Whitaker (left). He is credited with a pivotal role in the economic development of Ireland in the 20th century which lead to many changes in education and the church-state relations.

“Taoiseach’s address to the American Chamber of Commerce – 18th February 2011” by MerrionStreet.ie is licensed with CC BY-NC-ND 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/

Post-war era in Ireland led to many challenges and problems in terms of funding for education in Ireland. With underpaid and under trained teachers, bad school buildings and rigid bureaucratic control being ‘as strong as it ever was’ leading the problems at this time (Ferriter, 2012). Adding to these problems during this time, religious ‘catechism’ or instruction, was undergoing radical revision at the expense of implications for teachers. The separation of the instruction syllabi of the church from the state curriculum led to increased problems also (O’Donoghue, Harford, and O’Doherty, 2017). I think this issue that arose from a lack of cohesion between the church and state during the struggle for power, which added to the challenging aspects of the changing landscape of Irish education in the 20th Century.

I think that 1960s Ireland can be viewed as a reform in its own sense by the funding provided by the state to education. O’Buachalla (1988) mentions how the economic expansion of the sixties made available the resources which permitted a more generous education provision. O’Buachalla (1988) further backs up my point of the 60s being a major decade for change in Ireland when it suggests that by 1963, the central issues in Irish education had been quantified and defined. The introduction of free second-level education in 1967 was a key turning point to education in Ireland and led to a great interest in education amongst the public (O’Donoghue, Harford, and O’Doherty, 2017). However, as the Catholic Church were still held in high regard by parents and ‘in view of the church’s teaching authority’, the minister ‘consulted the Catholic hierarchy on the management of these schools and was satisfied…to constitute a management structure acceptable to all the interested parties’ (O’Buachalla 1988).

From carrying out the sessions content and additional readings and attending the webinars of this module, I have gained a huge insight into the Church-State relations and the ‘battle’ for control over Ireland’s education system and the effect this has had on the changing landscape of the 20th century post-primary system. Although this piece may feel like an attack on the church and their efforts to maintain control of the schooling system of Ireland for their own personal benefit, it goes without saying that without their determinations and personal funding to keep Catholic education alive in the centuries prior, it is difficult to know how the Catholic education system would have survived up to now had it not been for the Catholic Church’s efforts.   

Reference List:

  • Coolahan, J. (2017) Towards the Era of Lifelong Learning: A History of Irish Education 1800-2016. Dublin: IPA.
  • Ferriter, D. (2012) Ambiguous republic: Ireland in the 1970s. Profile Books.
  • Ó Buachalla, S. (1988) Education policy in twentieth century Ireland. Dublin: Wolfhound Press.
  • O’Donoghue, T., Harford, J. and O’Doherty, T. (2017) Teacher preparation in Ireland: History, policy and future directions. Emerald Group Publishing.
  • Titley, B.E. (1983) Church, State and the control of schooling in Ireland, 1900-1944. Belfast: McGill-Queen’s University Press.
  • Whitaker, T. K. (1986) ‘Economic Development, 1958-1985’.
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