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The aspect that is chosen for this assignment is the Free Post Primary Education Scheme of 1967 “The introduction of the post-primary education scheme in 1967-1968 was an attempt to ensure equality of access to all seeking education beyond the first level” (Curry 2003 pg.88). Prior to this scheme people, who attended the second level in Ireland often had to pay fees. The schools that were run by religious orders however often had their own free schemes to allow families with a low income to attend second level education. In this assignment, we are going to look at why it the free scheme came about, how it developed and influenced the Irish education system. Finally, we are going to look at how it made an impact on our education.
As said above in 1967 Irish education was for the majority not free. In 1967, the minister of education Donogh O’Malley decided that Ireland’s education needed change. Why did our system need change? O’Malley decided that no boy or girl should be without a chance of education just because his or her parent could not afford to pay for it. “One of the more significant findings of the investment in Education report (1965) was that there were serious inequalities in the numbers from different socio-economical groups in second-level schools. In particular, the report indicated that less than one-third were children of semi-skilled and unskilled workers, while almost three-quarters were the children of professionals, employers, managers and senior salaried employees” (Curry 2003 pg. 87).
O’Malley saw that this needed to change. In 1967 he brought the idea forward. The reason why he brought it forward at that time was that Ireland’s economy was growing steadily so the government could afford to support their schools. In addition to these reasons O’Malley also believed that providing education to the people would slow down emigration because the countries workforce would become more educated. “Education and society come hand in hand; education should focus on producing students who have the knowledge” (Zajda 2001 pg. 22).
When the scheme was brought forward it was available in the comprehensive and vocational schools, and in general, the secondary schools that choose to avail of the free scheme (Randles, 1975 pg. 216-217). The idea was brought forward to all schools. They could join the scheme or they could refuse to. The schools that decided against it became private schools and fees were high and only people who could afford these schools fees would attend it. The majority of Catholic secondary schools entered into the Free Education Scheme in 1967 while “the majority of Protestant secondary schools are not in the free scheme and the Department of Education pays a block grant to the Secondary Education Committee, which distributes it, in accordance with a means test, to Protestant parents in order to subsidise their children’s attendance at Protestant day or boarding schools” (Curry 2003 pg. 87).
So how was the scheme put into practice and how did it develop throughout the years? Prior to 1967 schools could do what they wanted. This O’Malley wanted to change. The scheme was designed in such a way that the Department of Education would take control of the schools. This meant that the fortunes of the school now depended on the department rather than the managers of the schools or County Vocational Education Committees. This new rule was left rather unchallenged and helped set the way to free education a lot quicker.
Meetings were set up between the Catholic and Protestant churches to come up with an agreement that both sides would be happy with. Many meetings took place with both churches not satisfied with was being proposed to them. O’Malley wanted to make sure that all parties involved in the Irish education were happy to go onboard with the new scheme. Many of the meetings did not go as planned. During the meetings, O’Malley ensured that the scheme would “provide grants towards free schoolbooks and accessories for necessitous day pupils. Under the scheme, free transport was also provided for pupils living more than three miles from a school in which free education was now available” (Curry 2003 pg. 88). The aim of this was to increase attendance in secondary and third level institutes and to get all the related parties on-board with his proposal. In order to do this, they had to conduct surveys. The options had to become more clear-cut, school survival was largely dependent on pupil numbers and numbers required free education, because of this, the result would be accepted (Randles 1975 pg. 242).
How did the scheme affect the Irish education? At first, the new scheme started slowly changing the power the schools had and handed it over to the state. When the schools announced that they had free education available, enrolment increased significantly. In September 1967, there were 18000 students on the rolls of secondary schools with the same unprecedented numbers enrolling in vocational schools (Randles 1975 pg. 276). Another effect the scheme had was that there was a rise in qualified teachers being employed. The scheme got a lot more control off the Irish schools. This meant that the influence the church had over the education system dropped significantly. “A lot more lay teachers have hired the number of secondary school teachers doubled between 1967 and 1974” (Tussing 1978). As well as lay teachers were now also becoming principals instead of a religious figure being in charge of the school. Education in Ireland changed drastically over the next ten years.
Another drastic change that happened in Ireland because of the introduction of the scheme was that in the next 20 years employment changed. People were leaving school educated and with different mindsets. Before the scheme the majority of people were self-employed, around half of the population worked in agriculture. After the scheme had been implemented, it was said that when people left education they would get jobs in places where some kind of degree was required. Parents of young adults and teenagers were now able to plan their children’s future instead of getting out of school as quickly as possible so that the children could help at home. The scheme made Irish education better and more available for the Irish people. Even though the scheme had to develop as it went through the years, it changed the lives of the Irish people.
So how did the free education act of 1967 have an effect on the Irish education system? Firstly, the whole point for its introduction was to ensure that everybody had an equal chance at education. Which it did. After this scheme was brought in, everybody could go to school and even university. This is still evident today. People who are unemployed can still receive a degree in whatever they wanted. Another effect it had on the Irish education was that it took away a lot of power the church had in our education system. A lot more teacher was hired which increased employment. More people now left the Irish education with a degree of some sort. This meant there was a rise in job opportunities.
When the scheme was first brought into action, it blew people away with the results it was showing. Even the minister who had estimated 75% of day pupils would avail of the free education instead 92% of day pupils would avail of it. Due to this, there was very little hope of reversing the decision, a decision by which some schools became completely dependent on government funds (Randles 1975 pg. 276). The Scheme had another impact on the Irish education because it set the way of everything that came after it. If the government did not take control of the secondary level schools than they would never have had the chance to bring in the Inter Cert, which would later become the Junior Cert. this goes the same for the Leaving Cert. In early 1997, An Taoiseach, John Bruton T.D. wrote in the Sunday Independent on 26 January 1997 “one of the most important decisions taken in this century in Ireland was the introduction of free second level education in the 1960’s”. He suggested that this decision opened up higher education and job opportunities to thousands of Irish people and furthermore, he asserts that “None of this would have happened but for the original decision to extend free second level education back in the 60’s. This shows us how important it is to think in a long-term sense” (Coolahan 1997 pg. 2). This shows us that the scheme was a long-term plan by O’Malley and that it set its way to how we teach our students today.
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