Skip to main content

National Education (Ireland)

Volume 225: debated on Friday 18 June 1875

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

Observations Question

rose to call the attention of the House to copy of a Letter from the Chief Secre tary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland to the Commissioners of National Education in Ireland, and of their reply to the same; also to the present state of national education in Ireland; and to inquire if Her Majesty's Government contemplate any changes either as regards the present system of education in Ireland or of training teachers; and, if so, what would be those changes? The noble Lord said, he should not have intruded this interesting and difficult subject upon their Lordships had it not been that although Questions had been asked in both Houses of Parliament, no satisfactory assurances had been given on the part of the Government to those who, like himself, believing the national system properly carried out was of great value, had been somewhat alarmed by the letter of the Chief Secretary. A general misconception pervaded the minds of Members of both Houses on the subject, for they seemed to believe that it was only fair to extend what was the system in England to Ireland also. But the circumstances of the case were wholly different. In Ireland the schools on the national system were maintained almost exclusively by grants from the State, and the State had therefore the right to prescribe how the schools should be carried on, and that the system adopted should be such that children of no denomination should be excluded from them. But in England the denominational system prevailed, and a great portion of the expenses of national education was defrayed by voluntary contributions. Therefore, upon the principle that they who paid the piper should choose the tunes, the managers of English schools had a claim to regulate the instruction which Irish managers had not. As almost the entire expense of education in Ireland was paid by State grants, it followed that it should be national and not denominational. But was it true or not true that the national system in Ireland had ceased to have any value in that sense, and had become denominational? The famous letter of the late Lord Derby to the Duke of Leinster defined what was intended by national education. It was "united secular and separate religious instruction, a system from which all suspicion of proselytizing was banished." That was not the principle carried out in denominational schools; but as in Ireland there were only 76 of those schools, with 180,000 children on their rolls, while there were on the rolls of other schools under the National Board 820,000 children, it could not be said that the denominational had superseded the national system. But the system had been departed from in respect to the training of teachers, which was first interfered with by the decision of the Roman Catholic Bishops at the Synod of Thurles. He would not dwell on the well known O'Keeffe case, but there was a report afloat that the late Prime Minister (Mr. Gladstone) was so discontented with what had taken place with the conduct of the National Board on that occasion that if he had remained in office he would have had a responsible in the place of an irresponsible Board. The noble and learned Lord (Lord O'Hagan) seemed to signify a negative, and therefore the rumour was not correct; but he (Lord Oranmore and Browne) thought that would be a most desirable change. Though in Ireland no less than 80 per cent of the children were in what were called mixed schools, yet it was alleged that these were denominational, as in many of them the priest was the patron, and many of them adjoined the Roman Catholic chapel; but as the rules excluded denominational teaching, and 24,400 Protestant children were scattered through those schools, those children now benefited by the national system, and would be excluded under the denominational. He trusted, therefore, that the Government would not sanction any divergence from the national system in the schools, for if they did the Protestant children who attended them would get no education at all. It had been said that the national system in Ireland had been a failure, and in the other House of Parliament Mr. Lyon Playfair had stated that of the children educated in the Irish national schools, only 18 per cent could either read or write. A greater fallacy had never been uttered. The right hon. Gentleman had based his statistics on the number of children on the school rolls, which was 1,140,000; but the fact was that the average attendance did not amount to more than 400,000, and the children who qualified for examination did not amount to 300,000. Now, he would make a comparison of results as between Ireland and England. In Ireland something over 86 per cent of the children examined passed in reading. In England of the number so examined 88 per cent passed. In Ireland the 86 per cent passed in writing; in England 80 per cent. In Ireland 69 per cent passed in arithmetic; in England 70 per cent. Taking the total, something over 62 per cent of the children examined passed in Ireland and 59 per cent in England. He could not see how this could be called "a monstrous failure;" he thought it a great success. The insufficient attendances at schools in Ireland might in a great measure be accounted for by the fact that a large number of children in that country were employed at field labour, and that if compulsory education kept them from thus earning their bread, the State must not only provide education, but food and clothing. In 1866, the noble Lord who was then Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant (Lord Carlingford) wrote a letter to the Commissioners of National Education in Ireland, suggesting certain changes, and in the letter of the present Chief Secretary those suggestions were referred to. If the recommendations in respect of the training of teachers made by a majority of the Commissioners were adopted, the result would be that the majority of the Irish national teachers would be trained by religious Orders of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland. Seeing that in countries where the Roman Catholic Church had plenitude of means and power the people were the most ignorant, and that all Roman Catholic countries where the Roman Catholic Church held sway were in a most unfortunate position—witness Spain and the Republic of South America—and as he should much regret such a result in Ireland as that which he had just indicated, he therefore hoped to receive from Her Majesty's Government a distinct assurance that there was no intention on their part to make any change in the national system in Ireland which would have the effect of making it denominational.

dissented from the statement of the noble Lord that very little aid was contributed by voluntary effort towards education in Ireland. The 30 or 40 schools with which he had some connection paid half their expenses.

stated that he and many others also contributed towards support of schools on these properties; but, nevertheless, voluntary contributions through Ireland did not amount to 1 per cent of the whole expenses.

said, that when he saw the Question of his noble Friend on the Paper, he felt some doubt as to what his exact meaning or object could be; because it appeared as if what his noble Friend wanted the Government to do was to repeat the declaration already made by the Representative of the Irish Government in the House of Commons. But he found from the speech of his noble Friend that his object was first to elicit something to calm the alarm which a debate held in the other House of Parliament some time ago had created in his mind; and next, to answer certain arguments "put forward by Mr. Lyon Playfair. Now this was very irregular and inconvenient. Manifestly, it would be very inconvenient to be answering in that House speeches made at the other side of St. Stephen's Hall. It was satisfactory, however, to observe that the alarm of his noble Friend was not of a tempestuous or stormy character. The debate in "another place" was held in March, and the terrors of his noble Friend had been so slowly gathering that it was not until the 18th of June he came forward to have them allayed. It was not his (the Marquess of Salisbury's) business to impugn the national system in Ireland. Bad or good, it was the only one we had in that country, and the only one we were likely to have there, and therefore it was to the interest of all parties to make the best of it. His noble Friend had referred to the statistics brought forward by Mr. Lyon Playfair, and had quoted some figures in reply. "Well, statistics were a very expansive article, and Irish statistics were endowed with a special elasticity, and he had no doubt the noble Lord would readily find statistics that would give him any information he might desire. He did not think it necessary on an occasion like the present to go into inquiries as to the number of illiterate persons in Ireland, or as to how many children of five years old went to school in that country, or as to whether a child of five years old ought to read and write; but the noble Lord seemed persuaded that there were scarcely any illiterate children in Ireland, and that it would rather do an injury than otherwise to increase the salaries of the teachers. He could not, however, pledge the Government to assist the noble Lord in this matter. But there seemed to be a general consensus of opinion that the success of the Irish national schools was not equal to what had been anticipated, and that the acquirements of the teachers were not up to the standard to which we in England were accustomed. An endeavour might be made to meet that state of things by either of two means. By means of payment for results they might enable managers to employ better teachers; or they might by a better course of training make better teachers themselves. He leant to the first as being the better mode of improving the teachers. If £43 a-year was the averags salary received by the teachers in the Irish national schools, that could not be regarded as a satisfactory payment, and as his noble Friend was so satisfied with the national system in Ireland, he hoped that he (Lord Oranmore and Browne) would not think that a salary of £43 to the teachers—which was about the average earnings of a Lincolnshire labourer—was bound up with that system. He would not say a word which could be construed to indicate any intention to depart from the national system in Ireland. The question of dealing with training colleges in Ireland was surrounded with difficulties, in consequence of the views of their duty which were entertained by the heads of religious communities in Ireland. It was not his duty to give an opinion on those views; but there could be no doubt that a large portion of the people of this country regarded them in the same light as that in which his noble Friend looked at them, and it would hardly be possible to alter the system of the training colleges without entering on a course that would not be desirable. He had to say, therefore, that Her Majesty's Government had no intention to alter the system of training colleges. But, on the other hand, he did not see why they should be prevented from relying on the other plan, if it appeared to them that it would remedy the evils which were admitted to exist in connection with national education in Ireland.

said, he had expressed no opinion as to increasing the salaries of the national teachers.

said, that, as the noble Lord who had introduced this subject had referred to him, he hoped he might be allowed to add a few words to the discussion. He confessed that the letter of the present Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant did interest him very much, and gratify him not a little, because it showed that the Chief Secretaries in Governments of different Parties did recognize a fact rather underrated by the noble Marquess—namely, the necessity of good training to the success of national education in Ireland. In 1866, when he was Chief Secretary, he found that of the whole number of 7,472 teachers, 4,369 were untrained. The present Chief Secretary found that in 1874 no fewer than 6,118 out of the whole number of 9,900 were untrained. The noble Lord (Lord Oran-more and Browne) had spoken of the training of teachers as if it were not an essential part of a system of national education. But everyone knew that without a well-trained body of teachers such a system must break down. In England and Scotland the teachers were trained for two years, while in Ireland those who were nominally trained received a course of training which extended over only five months. That being the state of things, he felt himself, when Chief Secretary, compelled to recognize what the right hon. Gentleman the present Chief Secretary again called attention to in 1874. Acting in conjunction with the Lord Lieutenant, Sir Michael Hicks-Beach wrote—

"It now only remains for his Grace to invite the special attention of the Board to the important subject embraced in Question No. 6. His Grace understands that in England there are 39 training schools with 2,894 students and a grant of £95,200; in Scotland five training schools with 704 students and a grant of £21,500; while in Ireland there is only one normal school with 218 students and a grant of £7,646, although this deficiency is to some extent supplemented by the system of model schools. It is further to be borne in mind that whereas two years is generally considered the minimum period of residence in a training school, the Irish teachers, with the exception of those who undergo an additional term of special training, remain only about five months in the Marlborough Street normal school. The existing insufficiency of teachers trained oven to this extent cannot but injuriously affect the general standard of education. And his Grace observes that in their last Report the Commissioners show that they have 6,284 untrained teachers in their service."
He then went on to refer to the recommendation made by the Chief Secretary in 1866, and to that of the Royal Commission in 1868, and continued—
"His Grace is anxious to bring the recommendations of Mr. Fortescue and of the Royal Commissioners under the notice of the Board, while, at the same time, carefully guarding himself against expressing any opinion upon their respective merits; and, in conclusion, he desires me to state that it would he to him a source of deep gratification if, with the valuable assistance of the Commissioners of National Education, some practical and reasonable scheme could be devised to remedy a state of things which is such a serious obstacle to maintaining at the highest standard the education of the Irish people."
In that letter there were stated—and he could not say overstated—stated cautiously and moderately—the deficiencies which could only be described as the serious, and, if continued, fatal deficiencies of the system of national education in Ireland. What had been the result was shown by the answer just given by the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Salisbury). The Irish Government asked the Commissioners of National Education for some solution, and they made certain recommendations. As regarded the well-known and central training school in Dublin, they recommended
"That the system at present in force might be advantageously modified by permitting those who are admitted to the training school to reside in private boarding-houses; to be approved of by the Commissioners, and to receive a grant sufficient to defray the cost of living of the pupils so resident."
He did not understand from the noble Marquess that the Government had put their veto on that reasonable and moderate recommendation. He hoped they had not. Another recommendation was still more important. It was that, under rules and precautions to be laid down by the National Commissioners, something like the system of training which existed in this country should be allowed in Ireland. That was the monstrous and terrible proposition which so excited the alarm of the noble Lord (Lord Oranmore and Browne) and his friends—an alarm which the noble Marquess thought it necessary to allay. The recommendation to which he alluded would involve no change in the fundamental principles of the national system of education, but would give permission to persons in Ireland to come forward and do what was done by universal practice in England. The noble Lord (Lord Oranmore and Browne) began by an attempt to take the wind out of the sails of those who supported the recommendations. He said that in Ireland almost the whole cost of national education was paid by the State, and that therefore the State ought to have its own way. Even if the State did pay for the education of the Irish people, that would be no good reason why it should lay down in one country rules which it did not venture to impose in the other, or why the State should in either country lay down rules which would prevent the adoption of a remedy for the evil pointed out in the letter of the Chief Secretary and admitted by the noble Marquess. If only a small amount was raised by voluntary effort for education in Ireland, was that a reason why private persons should be prevented from coming forward to bear a share in the expense of training teachers under the inspection and authority, within reasonable bounds, of the Commissioners of National Education in Ireland? He denied that in advocating such a proposal he was unfaithful to the principles on which the system of national education in Ireland was founded. That was a cry which came principally from the Province of Ulster and from persons whom the noble Lord represented that evening. Those excellent persons, who showed the greatest desire for education in Ireland, were very unwilling that such education should be regulated except in accordance with their own views; but those who were responsible for the government of the country must not confine themselves to consulting the views of one portion of the inhabitants. They must try to provide a system on which the education of a people as a whole could be conducted. He held that if the Government allowed themselves to be influenced too far by the advice of the noble Lord and his Friends they would leave the education of the people of Ireland in a most unsatisfactory position. The gentlemen represented by the noble Lord appeared to be so bent on solving the problem of governing Ireland as if there were no Roman Catholics in it that they were entirely blind to the facts of the case as they existed. The noble Lord seemed to be unaware that about one-half the national teachers in that country had got their training—though it did not deserve that name—in a manner and under circumstances which must be very unsatisfactory to the noble Lord himself. Was the noble Lord aware that the great body of these had received that haphazard training in what the noble Lord would call clerical schools? If he (Lord Oranmore and Browne) thought that the present system saved the teachers from clerical and denominational training, nothing could be more mistaken. He desired to draw the noble Lord's attention to that point, because, that once conceded, it must be admitted that the proposed change in the training system would be no change at all as regarded the clerical or denominational element—the only difference between it and the present system would be that between good training and bad training. The noble Marquess had taken a very ingenious course. He admitted that there was a great evil, and said there were two remedies, as between which the Government had to make their choice. One was to encourage the managers to give the teachers higher salaries, the other to do what was done in this and every other country. And the noble Marquess said the Government had come to the conclusion of adopting the first and not the second alternative. The two courses were not alternatives. Both were required. We had them both in England; both were essential to any system of national education. The Government had come to the conclusion stated by the noble Marquess for the reason he had pointed out—that the heads of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland entertained views which made it impossible for the Government to comply with the recommendation of the Commissioners in respect of training colleges;—there were religious susceptibilities in this country which made it impossible. It was not for him to enter into a defence of the heads of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland. Very few men in their Lordships' House differed more from them on many points of opinion and belief; but he was not aware that the heads of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland adopted a different view on the subject from that held by the Bishops of this country—the heads of the Established Church. He was not aware that they asked for anything for the schools in Ireland which had not been demanded and obtained by the heads of all Churches in this country. On the contrary, they asked for less. Their Lordships were aware that the proposal for a State College in this country in which all teachers of all denominations were to be trained had broken down, and had never been supported by the noble Marquess, the heads of the Church in this country, or the present occupants of the Treasury Bench. Did they think that a demand made on behalf of the people of Ireland for what would remedy an admitted evil in the Irish system of national education should be refused because the people of this country would not look favourably upon it? He was sorry that any declaration of that kind should be made, because it could do nothing but mischief and strengthen the hands of those who desired a separation of the two countries, as much as he himself desired that they should be cordially united.

said, he hoped the Government would not act on the advice of the noble Lord who had just spoken (Lord Carlingford). He was glad that the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Salisbury), on the part of the Government, had determined to maintain the present system, because, whatever might have been the opinions entertained in former years, he believed that the great majority of the Protestants of Ireland, whether they approved the system or not, wished that no change should be made in it at the present time. The national system of education had now been in operation in Ireland for a period of 40 years, and although there might be a feeling in some parts that it had not proved successful, it was not desirable that hasty changes should be made. The general feeling in Ireland, at least among the Protestants, was that the Commissioners of National Education in that country had a secret leaning in favour of denominationalism. It appeared to him, however, very desirable that agriculture should be more taught in the rural schools, for it seemed an extraordinary thing that the occupation in which the greater part of the population was engaged should be that to which little or no attention was paid by the national teachers.

, speaking as one of the Commissioners of National Education in Ireland, had a right to demand that when charges were made against them of being unfaithful to the system of which the administration was committed to them that they should be judged by their public acts and public declarations, not by the opinions scattered through the country and founded on misconceptions and misrepresentations. Looking to their acts and declarations, he said it was impossible for any of those who, in that House or elsewhere, had ventured to assail the system in a very gross and scandalous way, to establish the charges they made against a body of gentlemen—putting himself out of the question—of the highest position and the greatest intelligence, who had faithfully devoted themselves to the advancement of national education in Ireland—often in the face of great obloquy and much misconstruction. At present there were some 6,000 out of 9,000 teachers of national schools in Ireland who were utterly without training of any kind recognized by the State or regulated by the law of the land; and he thought that if attention was paid to the state of things in Ireland at that moment any Government would be disposed to take some risk and make some effort to redress existing deficiencies. The Commissioners had not proposed to do anything that would wound any religious susceptibilities. The proposition accepted by the Commissioners and supported by the noble Lord behind him (Lord Carlingford) was not that there should be denominational training for teachers, but that there should be non-vested training colleges established in Ireland on the same principles, moving on the same lines, and with the same results as the non-vested schools under the national system of education. It was very desirable that that moderate proposal should be considered by the Government, and he hoped the day was not far distant when they would have a satisfactory system of training for their teachers; without which, indeed, it would be impossible that education could progress as it ought to do in Ireland. As to the charges that had been made in that House and repeated at public meetings that the national system had proved a complete failure, and that it was a scandalous thing that such large sums should be spent upon it and yet that the people of Ireland should, after 40 years, remain uneducated as they were, he must say that that imputation rested on a totally erroneous idea of the history of national education in Ireland. He would say that the charge was rested upon an utterly fallacious basis. It was founded on the assumption that the Commissioners who first sat on the National Board about the year 1831 had from that time forward full control over the education of the entire population of Ireland. A more fallacious assumption than that it was impossible to conceive. The Board had to fight a battle with almost every denomination in Ireland. The people of the Established Church stood aloof, and for some years the Presbyterians were extremely hostile, and it was not until 10 years after its establishment that they became disposed to take advantage of it. As to the Roman Catholics, having suffered in an essential degree from want of schools, they showed more willingnesss to accept the system; and the late Archbishop of Dublin, Dr. Murray—one of the best and purest of men—was for many years a Commissioner of the Board, and, as such, gave great confidence in the Board to his coreligionists. But it was not until the closing years of the late Primate of Ireland that the people of the Established Church at all took to the national system. In Connaught, however, the Roman Catholics resisted the system throughout, and elsewhere they offered a partial opposition. But, notwithstanding those difficulties, the result was so successful that the whole of Ireland, from its centre to its circumference was now studded with schools. The system had been denounced in the other House of Parliament as a gross failure. But what were the facts? In 1841 there were 2,337 national schools; in 1851, 4,704; in 1861, 5,830; and in 1871, 6,914. Moreover, according to the Census Returns, the percentage of illiterate persons in Ireland in 1841 was 52·7; in 1851, 46·8; in 1861, 38·7; and in 1871, 33·4. But as these figures included children down to the age of five, it might be thought more satisfactory to look at the percentage of illiterate persons between 15 and 20. That percentage had been reduced from 27·3 in 1861 to 17·5 in 1871. Instead of the system having been a gross failure, it had been, in his opinion, a great success and a great blessing, and it seemed to him to be the duty of those who took an interest in Ireland and desired that the people should become really intelligent and loyal to assist as far as they could in promoting a system which had produced the results he had described.

said, they were bound to guard most jealously against any attempt to depart from the original principle upon which Parliament had founded the system of education now in operation in Ireland, and it was because he saw traces of such a disposition that he was thankful to find that there was no wish either on the part of the House or on the part of the Government to depart from the principles hitherto observed. He wished to ask the noble and learned Lord why the Commission in their Report this year had omitted the column relating to Mixed Education?

said, he was not aware that it had been done. He would make inquiries and inform the noble Viscount on a future day.

, said, he had been a manager of a school under the national system in Ireland, and in relation to the noble and learned Lord's defence of the National Board of Education in that country against misrepresentations and accusations, he was unable to remember the time when the Board was not subjected to these, or when the conduct of its members was supposed to be free from political and partizan influences. That was owing to an original and serious defect in its constitution. All the Commissioners on the Board, or nearly all of them, were appointed from time to time by the Government of the day, and the result was that they had in a country where political partizanship and prejudice ran high, a succession of appointments, which, if not always of a political character, were at least open to the imputation of being so. That was a serious defect; as was also the fact that none of its rules were absolutely unalterable by the Board itself, and therefore there was always a temptation to one party or the other in the Board to alter them, and that further had laid them open to the imputation of being inclined to make changes of a sectarian or religious character. He had long felt that the true principle on which Irish education should be dealt was that the present semi-political Board should be changed for three, or even one, paid Commissioner, irremovable except for misconduct, and that the fundamental rules of the system on which education should be administered should be unalterable. In other words, he would like to see something more corresponding to the Education Department of England. If that change were made, little further would be needed, except improvements in detail; for the Irish national system as a whole was the best possible for Ireland, and so highly did he esteem it that he could not help regretting it had not been transferred to this country.

said, he entirely concurred in the observations that had fallen from the noble Lord the late Chief Secretary for Ireland and from the right rev. Prelate, and urged that steps should be taken to provide a larger supply of educated teachers for Irish schools.