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From the Superintendent’s EyrieIrish Times Educational Supplement, June 14, 1993

From the Superintendent’s Eyrie

Irish Times Educational Supplement, June 14, 1993

One of the regulations laid down by the Department of Education in the General Instructions for Superintendents (Revised 1993) reminds superintendents to give their entire attention to the work of superintendence 'and that the reading of newspapers or books, making out advise notes or advise slips, writing letters, sewing, knitting, or engaging in any occupation other than superintendence, during the examination is incompatible with the proper discharge of their duties.' They are not allowed to bring into the centres any newspapers or books, presumably lest they be tempted. And, of course, they cannot smoke. The only thing not forbidden is the cup of coffee. But, I can see that going also: try taking your elevenses during maths exam and it definitely interferes with the insatiable demand for graph paper .

It's midway through the afternoon session and I'm beginning to wilt. The boiled bacon, cabbage and spuds tasted lovely but have begun to take their toll. The effects of the coffee and ginger snaps at three have quickly worn off. A terrible drow­siness has come over me, helped by the air made heavy with thunder. I could almost sleep on my feet.

The mind, almost consumed, is suddenly awakened. How many left-­handers among the forty candidates for Leaving Cert? The answer is eight. Twenty percent! Is this the national average? Has the number increased in recent years since people came to the conclusion that there is nothing sinister in writing with the left hand? Strange, that it is still held that left-handed golfers and hurlers never really make it. That is, of course, with such exceptions as Bob Charles and Jimmy Doyle.

Four of my boys wear earrings. Why do they? Why do the other thirty-six not? What does it tell us about either grouping? Five wear glasses. Is the national average for 17-18 year olds twelve and a half percent? And what about the four with pronounced acne? Are they also part of an average or are they telling me about their diets or sex lives?

I consider my group to be conservatively dressed. No less than thirty wear blue jeans. If jeans were a compulsory uniform in school would anyone be wearing them? And, because they are not : but a sign of liberation have we thirty conservatives slavishly imitating their peers? The remaining ten show a spot of independence: Oh, yes, they still wear different brands of jeans but the colours are other than blue.

A similar conservative outlook can be seen in their footwear. A majority, twenty-four, wear different makes of runners, Nike, Adidas, and rarer breeds. Usually on a hot day they stink but there are no odours emanating today. There are five pairs of Doc Martins and eleven pairs of assorted shoes. The Doc Martin is so eminently suited to schoolboys. And girls, for that matter .

Apart from my own there are only eight shirts in the room. They are of assorted colours and makes but recognisably shirts. The remainder are a rainbow coalition of tee-shirts, sweat-shirts and sports jerseys advertising a whole spectrum of goods and clubs and universities.
Only four are of the long-haired variety and even they reflect a conservative hirsute streak. One has a pony tail tying back shiny black hair a la Jerry Ryan as he used to be. The vast majority reveal a partiality to tidy locks, many even favouring close-cut concoctions.

As a result of this survey do I know anything more of my silently-working scholars? Can one judge the book by the cover? Are they any different to a similar group in the next town or city? If not, are they part of a vast amorphous mass being processed through the present secondary school system? Does the system and peer pressure stifle individuality?

Whatever it tells me the important thing is I'm awake and alive again and the clock is fast approaching the magical hour of five o'clock and the breakout into the refreshing air.

 

Superintending – The Examination GameThe Secondary teacher, Autumn 1980

Superintending – The Examination Game

The Secondary teacher, Autumn 1980

The important information comes the last week in May – the centre. The large brown envelope contains the book of General Instructions for Superintendents. It is Confidential and must be returned to the office with the centre Signature Roll at the end of the examinations. The envelope also contains two pre-addressed postcards, one to mail immediately confirming acceptance of appointment and a second to be sent when you decide your address – not the Centre address, mind you – for the duration of the examinations.

You spend the remaining few days studying the Book of Instructions! It is a marvellous document which helps you along every step of the way from the day preceding the exams, when you collect the box containing the papers to the final day when you dump everything at the nearest railway station. But, in case any aspect of your duties is not sufficiently clear you are furnished with another document, not as elaborately produced, entitled Day-To-Day Instructions to Superintendents. Other communi­cations include two closely written pages on Instructions to Candidates, more instructions on the cover of Rolla an lonad and finally, Special Instuctions to Super­intendents: List of Corrections. Invariably there are some small errors in the printing of the examination papers and this document is the result of a thorough fine-combing by vigilant inspectors. One interesting instruction to super­intendents on this document is "You need not read out a notice if there is no candidate in your centre taking an examination paper to which it refers". There must be some terribly stupid superintendents around!

Armed with this weight of expertise you arrive at the centre the day before to set it up. There you meet a big black box containing all the paraphernalia of the examina­tions. Everything enclosed is carefully listed. You also meet your Attendant, a requirement for every super­intendent. He helps you prepare the centre and remains outside the door for the duration of the examinations at your beck and call. This important job commands a wage of £2.85 per day a sure sign that attendants belong to no union. It is probably true to say that his is the lowest paid job in the country! But there is more to it. In many schools, in return for his appointment he is given jobs to do during his hours of waiting. The Headmaster may use him as a general cleaner-upper of end-of-term rubbish.

The big day arrives and you're in plenty of time. No matter how often you've superintended there's a certain amount of tension this first morning. Did I bring the keys of the boxes? Am I forgetting some vital instruction? The candidates are also excited. Some futures hang in the balance. You read the Instructions to Candidates as light-heartedly as possible. A few laughs are good for lowering the tension level. You distribute the answer-books, blue for Lower, pink for Higher. The time creeps on. You look repeatedly at the envelope to satisfy yourself you have the correct papers. Suddenly they're distributed: the exam has begun and you relax.

Well . . . not really. Officially it is forbidden to relax. The Instructions command one to give one's entire attention to the work of superintendence. It is forbidden to read, write, knit or engage in any occupation other than superintendence. There used to be a specific prohibition against drinking tea or coffee during the course of the examination. This year, in addition, one cannot even bring in the newspaper. Thank God I don't smoke because that's also forbidden. The superintendent must be on constant guard duty against anybody seeking to enter the centre during the course of the examination. The only exceptions are the attendant, when summoned, or a Departmental official on presenting an admission order. Come to think of it, I never did see one of those orders!

Despite all the instructions I have just come across a case that is not covered. It's ten minutes into the examination and a girl has just fainted. She's flat out down in the hall and emitting painful moans. Under one rule I can permit her to leave the hall because she is ill. But as she is unable to leave of her own volition — she's just fainted — what do I do? Yes, summon the attendant! But she's too small and the fainted girl is too large and one can't move the other. I can consult another rule and expel the candidate for behaviour liable to jeopardise the successful conduct of the examination. But she's insensible to my order! I have but one recourse: take her in my arms and leave her prone body outside. But, I am forbidden to leave the centre during the course of the examination! However, I decide to take the law into my own hands because she is disturbing the centre. I lift her up and make my way to the door. The motion brings her to, she screams and slaps me in the face! I drop her to her feet and return to the rules with what grace I can.

But the majority of days are far less exciting. The hours drag, punctuated by the morning coffee and the afternoon tea. In the past most schools provided hospitality, not only morning and afternoon snacks but huge lunches and, in some places, even the Bottle on the table! Whether it was post-prandial, sleeping superintendents or merely galloping inflation, rare is the school now that provides more than the cuppa. It's dangerous to have a pint before lunch or to eat too much.

Mid-afternoon is the lowest point of the day. The body lurches for sleep. Even walking around is unable to shake off the soporific afternoons of overcast Junes. There is no instruction on how to keep awake! Stories are told of superintendents falling asleep — to the delight of the candidates. In one case he slept right through despite the riot of moving bodies and flying missiles. The only relief is a pre-mature departure of the candidates. Some vocational schools are great: the candidates are all departed within the hour. Convents can be terrible: the candidates daren't depart until the final whistle is blown. How terribly un-thoughtful headmistresses can be!

The Art examinations enliven a dull routine. In the Leaving Certificate there are four papers over four exam periods and the four results have to be dispatched together. The Examination Centre has to be reconstructed for Still Life. All my rectangles and regular rows disappear and half-moons take over. The advice and assistance of the art teacher are available and direct responsibility is taken out of the hands of the super­intendent. The candidates can't really cog—every angle is different—and the only problem is the ensuing mess of speckled paint and splashed water. Life Sketching is a gift, lasting a mere hour and giving you time to get downtown and do a bit of shopping. Models are paid £1.50 and some can be very awkward and funny. In order to get some boys to remain steady for the fifteen-minute pose one would need to spray them with some strong lacquer!

The final days eventually arrive. The later you're on, the more you're paid. To have a candidate taking Italian or German gets you right to the last day. I should like to see many more candidates take Economic History; it also appears on the final day. The Instructions tell me to draw a map of the centre on the first day but I leave it towards the end. Probably the most exciting occupation of the last days is making up the expenses. The summer holidays are coming and they're an expensive time. You squeeze the last legitimate penny possible into the Form of Account. You extract the last mile that is possible.

I heard of one teacher who put in a claim for a box of matches. After every examination you put the answer books into a large envelope and you seal it with red wax. This teacher did not smoke and claimed that he had to buy matches specially in order to melt the wax. The Department refused to pay but my man persisted and after three letters he received his penny-halfpenny!
The final act is paying the attendant and depositing the boxes at the local railway station. Then it's the journey home, a few pints of satisfaction and a few hundred quid at the end of July.

There's a new instruction this year which states that superintendents should quote their Payroll Number in the space provided on the Form of Account otherwise delay-will occur in issuing payment. And that would be terrible!

JOHN MURPHY is a secondary teacher with fifteen years' superintending experience.

Butterflies and Wet Pants and Litanies and Novenas The Education Times, July 4, 1974

Butterflies and Wet Pants and Litanies and Novenas

The Education Times, July 4, 1974

It's exam time again. Thousands of boys and girls are suffering it out in neatly-ordered examination centres trying to organise their chaotic masses of facts. It is an awesome occasion.

The examinations branch of the Department of Education rises to it with its notices and warnings, its stationery boxes and its sealed packages, its 'provisional' envelopes and its inspectors. 

Teachers have been drilling their students for the past month with hot tips and questions that must come up.

The students themselves have butterflies and wet pants and recite litanies and novenas. 'Prayer alone without some work is useless. God helps those who help themselves,' a teacher once told us.

But there is another side to it all. I am thinking of the 'treasures' to be discovered in the answer books. 'The Brehon law and the March law were laws written down by two wise men'. I wonder whether his father was a lawyer.

I have got some marvellous replies to a question on coign and livery. Who wants to know anyhow? 'Coign and Livery were the names of two men. They went into business in the 18th century. The business Coign and Livery we have today is descended from them.' I wonder if the boy believed that. Or if I asked a supplementary: What kind of business? what would his fertile brain invent.

A more bloody-minded fellow gave me something different: 'Coign and Livery were methods of executing a person who did anything wrong.' Were they worse than hanging or garrotting? The answer may have been a hangover from one class we devoted to different kinds of killing.

Another fellow was on the right track. 'Coign and Livery was a type of market for cattle and other livestock. Today we would call it Mart and Market.' I suppose that Michael Dillon was bound to surface in the stream of consciousness.

When I get plain bad answers I have no mercy. If the reply shows some wit or originality I am lenient.

What is a Papal bull? 'The papal bull was the Pope.' If the Pope had been an Englishman he would never have called it a bull. 'Laudabiliter was the Papal bull. He was praised by the people.' What a difference there is between a Papal bull and an Irish bull! I remember when Monsignor, now Bishop, Ryan was appointed the Pope's confessor, somebody said the Pope needed a strong Tipperary lad to take care of the Papal bulls!

Why were they called Gallowglasses? It is a somewhat contradictory name for mercenary soldiers, like a bull in a china shop. A couple of lads thought so. 'Gallowglasses were a tribe in early Ireland, who tried to fight off the Normans. They settled in the Cork area.'

Quite close! Now I wonder why the Cork area? Did he consider the Gallowglasses a good crowd to be descended from or was he having a slag at Cork people?

The word 'tribe' is important for your interpretation. A more cultured kind, probably from the Waterford area, wrote: 'Galloglasses were a sort of glass used in the 18th century.;

While in the sunny south-east I would like to report that 'The Strongbow were a tribe which settled in Waterford. They had very strong weapons and were good fighters.'

I thought I had done a good job teaching the Statutes of Kilkenny. Normally it's the kind of subject that sticks in a young person's mind. 'The Statutes of Kilkenny were a set of battles between the Normans and the Gaelic rules.' A fair attempt but he failed to say what kind of war.

The following answer might have been taken from a tourist brochure. 'The Statutes of Kilkenny are famous for their shapes and their situation. They are a great attraction for tourists all the year round. They are very old.' A very positive suggestion for the regional tourism manager at Kilkenny. Get a copy of the Statutes and exhibit them in a public place all the year round. It might start a revival of trews and the Irish cloak.

No answer book is boring when you get answers like these. I get angry no more. Neither do I blame my teaching. Nature will out. 'What is the coccyx, Browne?' a colleague asked. 'It's the bone behind the bum, sir.' Much closer than many a textbook answer, I reckon.

Civics and Ireland The Secondary teacher, June 1966, Vol. 1 No. 6

Civics and Ireland

The Secondary teacher, June 1966, Vol. 1 No. 6

The proposed introduction of civics as a subject in Irish schools is a welcome addition to the curriculum. The fact that the majority of school-leavers finish their formal educa­tion without being instructed in their rights and duties as citizens is appalling. Admittedly, in so far as they are instructed in their religion, they have some kind of substitute. But it is not a sufficient substitute in so far as the Church and State have not identical ends. It would seem that the State is at last awakening to this fact and becom­ing aware of its responsibility in educating citizens. This "socialization process" is a phenomenon of the modern nation-state and can have good or bad repercussions depend­ing on the uses to which it is put. Its aims will be determined by the political and social circumstances of the state in question.

Many definitions of civics are available. Generally speaking, the aim of civics is to inculcate responsibility as a result of the recognition by the individual of his rights and duties. It includes educating the individual for a job; in this case, the job of being a good citizen. The man of our time is not an isolated individual living a self-sufficient existence in a primitive environ­ment. Rather is he a person whose actions have repercussions for a large number of people. In so far as this is so, his relations with other men must be regulated. The more complex these relations are the more sophisticated must be the regulations governing their behaviour. Side by side with this development of interdependence is the decline in individual independence.

These relations between man and man occur on different levels. There are relations with the family, the locality, the county, the employer, the State, and, in contem­porary times, the international environment. The more developed the society is the more complex will these relations be. Only an educated man is capable of understanding the ramifications of the rights and duties of such relations. It would be nearly true to say that the complexity of our present civilization has grown at a greater rate than the standard of education necessary to understand that civilization; fewer and fewer people understand how things work. The result is that people become more and more dependent and more subject to greater concentrations of power. In so far as it is possible, civics should aim at explaining these relations, informing the citizen on his rights and responsibilities, and giving him back some freedom.

Civics teaching will emphasise different things from state to state. In Ireland certain historical and social factors will dictate the emphasis. There is a strong authoritarian streak in our social experiences. Beginning in the family, the relation between parent and child is usually a one-way street; the child is to be seen but not heard. He does not contribute to family discussions; his remarks are at best tolerated. Growing up in this environment, his concept of the relation between authority and subject is one of power rather than persuasion. In school, a similar procedure obtains; his behaviour is ruled and his relaxations are "put in their place". If he toes the line of servitude he succeeds: if he is "unconven­tional" the world descends on him like a ton of bricks. Religion will play an important part in his life. His first experience with a minister of religion will probably be a happy one. However, as he grows in experience, he will find that religion is not a very personal thing: it is a rigidly laid down form of procedure. He will find that the position of the minister is one of authority. With a little study of history it will be easy for him to find the historical reasons for that position: the minister always held a position of leadership in the country and his word was law not only in religious matters but on political and social matters as well. The minister will have retained the position and the attitude of the only wise man. From this experience the growing child is confirmed in his concept of the relations between ruler and ruled : one of dictation.

When the child becomes an adult he will carry these attitudes into life with him. He may become a good subject or a severe master but he won't contribute much to the reasonable discussion of problems. This habit of the authoritarian approach to problems may be the cause of the failure of communi­cation between many sections of Irish life today. Here civics could play an important role in making mature men. By mature men I mean those who are capable of sitting down together, despite differing positions of authority, and solving mutual problems on the basis of the recognition of each other's rights. It entails eroding the feeling of in­security which is at the basis of the authoritarian attitude. When a man knows his rights, and knows that others know them, he will feel secure and will be less inclined to indulge in arbitrary behaviour towards his fellowmen. On the other hand, when he realises that his rights are preserved with the performance of his duties, he will have a greater incentive to perform the latter.

Civics is probably more important in Ireland today than ever before. The traditional centres of authority—the parent, the teacher, and the minister of religion— are gradually being eroded by the growing power of the state. The state is drifting deeper and deeper into socialism, even though we don't recognise it by that name. This is not necessarily a bad thing; in fact, in Irish circumstances, where resources are at such a premium, the need for the State to distribute the wealth of the country may be desirable. But regardless of its desirability, an offshoot of the development is the tremendous increase in the power of the state. The state becomes the great giver of largesse and more and more of us become civil servants. This outcome gives the state more power in the direction of our lives. There does not seem to be any alternative to this development, even if it were to be desired.

In such a situation, the need for respon­sible citizens is greater than ever. If we accept the general direction of government, are we capable of questioning particular decisions? Do we sit back and accept un-questioningly directives from the elite of the civil service? The majority of us will be unable to keep ourselves informed on most matters of government. But we could make it our business to be acquainted with the matters that most closely concern ourselves; an educator ought to be able to discuss the Government's educational policy. Where does civics come in ? It was mentioned above that civics should contribute to the educa­tion of responsible citizens. If the awareness of this responsibility is inculcated in the school, the carry-over should be sufficient to develop the type of citizen recommended above.

This brings us to the actual teaching of civics. There was a court case in an Irish town recently in which a youth was found guilty of stealing. The lawyer for the defence claimed that the youth was really a good boy—he got 90 per cent, in the Christian Doctrine examination in his school. The logic was dubious; a person could get 100 per cent, in religion and yet never perform an act of religion. The same is true apropos of the teaching of civics. The subject could easily develop into a catechism; question and answer without meaning. This develop­ment can be avoided in a number of ways. Not only must civics be a subject in its own right, but it must be part of every subject. In her article Why Civics? Miss Nora Kelleher suggested many relevant ways in which this could be realised. But the teach­ing of civics must go further to be meaning­ful; it must include practice as well as theory. Naturally, making the subject prac­tical will be far more difficult than merely teaching theory; the textbook and the teacher are sufficient for the latter whereas a fundamental change of attitude will be necessary for the former. Making civics prac­tical will involve some kind of devolution of authority in the schools; students ought to be given responsibility as soon as possible. In some schools there is a prefect system; in others, senior students have separate rooms for study; in more, one finds the honour system taking various forms. Some of these have succeeded, others have failed. But whether success or failure has been their lot, they need to be informed with a new attitude from those in authority; they must be seen not as "liberal" concessions but as the rights of the students. It should be possible to have a graduated transfer of responsibilities as the student moves from the lower to the higher forms in the school so that, by the time he leaves, he will have been responsible for getting his final examination : the means will have been available in the form of teachers and facili­ties but the success will have been his because he has properly used the means at his disposal. If the student gets his training in the school, side by side with the under­lying theory, there is a good probability that fewer of his kind will be breaking beer bottles against the railing of St. Stephen's Green during their first year at university to prove that they don't give a damn about anything. It will also facilitate the entry of a boy or girl from a secondary school into a position of responsibility. They will have been trained in responsibility.

The task before teachers will by no means be easy. Initially, they may have to face failure. The material at their disposal will be coming from a background which does not contribute to the development of responsibility. To throw such children on their own principles will lead to early disillusionment. At the other end of the scale they will turn out students capable of some responsibility into a society that tends to regard responsible people as upstarts, "getting out of line". But regardless of the difficulties, the inculcation of responsibility must go ahead. It was mentioned above that the power of the state was growing side by side with the decline in the traditional areas of authority. At the present we are probably lucky in having two great centres of power, the Church and the State. One tends to balance out the worst effects of the other. But to have either one supreme would be to the detriment of the freedom of the ordinary citizen. Present indications would seem to point to the growing power of the State without necessarily a decline in the power of the Church.

In the face of this develop­ment, the need exists for the training of a greater number of alert, responsible citizens, people who, by their awareness of their rights and duties, will be able to offset this encroachment on their freedom. The teach­ing of civics has a fundamental part to play in the training of such citizens and teachers have an obligation to see that mature men are the end product of their efforts. Teachers have one other responsibility: they must ever be on their guard lest the teaching of civics be used for the propagation of some pernicious doctrine. It is their duty to make certain that the subject never becomes a tool in the hands of partisan politics. When teachers have fulfilled these obligations they can be assured that their students will do them credit on leaving school.

The Comprehensive Idea The Secondary Teacher, Dec. 1966, Vol. 1 No. 10

The Comprehensive Idea

The Secondary Teacher, Dec. 1966, Vol. 1 No. 10

(Some of the ideas expressed by Mr. King in this article are, to say the least, controversial. It is hoped, however, that they will lead to the discussion that the author himself asks for in his final sentence.—Editor.)

The idea of the comprehensive school has been in circulation since Dr. Hillery, then Minister for Education, initiated it in 1963. Later, when Mr. Colley took over the top position in education he expanded on the idea. His contribution was the assertion that there would be few new comprehensive schools but that the comprehensive idea would be realised through the fusion of the existing secondary and vocational systems. In September 1960, Mr. O'Malley, the new Minister for Education, announced the pro­vision of free post-primary education up to the Intermediate Certificate level.

These are the general guidelines available to anyone who wishes to .know about this new dimen­sion in Irish Education. The guidelines are so general that it is difficult to formulate in any precise terms what, the result will be. It would seem that the Minister's publication of the idea was an attempt to initiate discussion. In fact very little discussion has taken place, partly, perhaps, because we are not used to thinking about education. The result has been that the comprehensive idea although four years in circulation, is still shrouded in vagueness. Writing about it. therefore, will involve not only piecing together the limited information at our dis­posal but also making suggestions on the comprehensive idea that may contribute to a discussion that never really began.

A Department of Education information sheet has this to say about the comprehensive idea: Comprehensive education is a system of post - primary education combining academic and technical subjects in a wide curriculum, offering to each pupil an education structured to his needs and interests and providing specialist guidance and advice on the pupil's abilities and aptitudes. Equality of educational oppor­tunity is inherent in such a system. The comprehensive school serves such a pur­pose particularly well. The prosperity of a nation depends on the abilities of its people and it is therefore of paramount importance to seek out and develop the talents not just of the few who are intellectually gifted but of all the children. There is a need of all talents, in all their variety and diversity.

The comprehensive idea is an attempt to fuse the secondary and vocational levels in post-primary education that have existed for so long in cold isolation. "It involves," to quote from another Department communica­tion, "the, creation of a situation in which the type of education that is best suited to the needs, abilities and aptitudes of each individual pupil is provided. To do this it is essential that the educational development of each student should be presented with as wide a selection of subjects as possible so that he may be given the opportunity of develop­ing his talents to the fullest extent." The comprehensive idea is an attempt to intro­duce equality of educational opportunity. This involves two levels of equality : it is an attempt to erode the second-rate status of technical education by putting it on a par with its academic counterpart; as we shall see later, it sets out to provide educational opportunity for children living in areas of the country badly provided with post-primary educational facilities : the new comprehensive schools have been built in such areas.

There are other than educational reasons for the comprehensive idea. Education be­comes more important every day. What was good enough for the parents will not be good enough for the children. "Because of the tremendous discoveries of science in the past 25 years," Mr. George Colley. Minister for Education, said to the Carlow group of Pax Romana. in March. 1966. "the fabric of industrial and commercial life has been radically altered. The day is fast approach­ing when the worker without a particular skill will be unable to find employment." And it is not only for a job that we need to raise the level of education; it is also for leisure. The Minister continued : "There is another side of the immense scientific advance which we are now experiencing. There is the promise of greater leisure. The five-day week may well become a three-day week if man remains a rational being, that is, if he does not wipe himself out. Education will help us to get more pleasure from our free time."

Whether for educational, economic, social, or egalitarian reasons, there is a great neces­sity to expand our educational opportunities. The needs of the country demand that we no longer be satisfied with the talents of the privileged. We cannot afford to allow 17,000 children to leave school with nothing but a primary education. This is no indictment of primary education. Rather is it a recognition of the fact that primary education was never intended to cope with the complexities of the machine age. We still need saints and scholars but we need the type suited to a technological age.

How is the comprehensive idea to be implemented? The comprehensive system of edu­cation will be provided through the erection of new comprehensive schools, through the expansion of present secondary and voca­tional schools, and through the co-operation between the secondary and vocational school authorities in providing educational facilities. Already, four new comprehensive schools have been completed and they are to serve as guidelines for schools in the other categories. According to the Department of Education, there has been an excellent response to the Minister's request for co­operation between the secondary and vocational school authorities. Many meetings at local level have already been held and plans have been made in several cases for practical co-operation during the next school year. Problems of authority, arrangement of curricula, and movement of pupils, between centres have not been discussed.

The comprehensive school will be open to all pupils who have reached the age of 12 years. No form of selection is contemplated at this age. The school will offer a three-year course leading to the Intermediate Certificate examination and subsequent courses leading to the Leaving Certificate. Primary education, where comprehensive facilities exist, will end at the age of 12 and the pupil will continue his education in a comprehensive school to the age of 15 years, graduating, if he does not wish to continue further. After 1970, when compulsory edu­cation to the age of 15 will be introduced, this will apply to all pupils.

The Department rejects the principle of any selection at the age of 12 years. Although no investigation into the effects of "streaming" has been done in this country, research in other countries since World War II suggests that it is extremely doubtful if intelligence can be accurately measured at an early age. On the basis of this research, Mr. Colley, in the above-mentioned speech, said : "In regard to comprehensive schools, I have decided that there will be no stream­ing based on ability on entry. Nor will there be streaming at any time during the three-year period leading to the Intermediate Certificate examination." "Streaming" will be avoided but since it will be necessary to obtain some measure of the pupil's achieve­ment on entry so that he may be assigned to the class for each subject that best suits him at the time, the pupils will take achievement tests in Irish, English and Arithmetic. According to their achievement in each sub­ject separately they will be assigned to the appropriate class in that subject. Further­more, each pupil's potential will be measured shortly after entry and the results compared with those of the attainment tests. It will be possible in this way to recognise the pupils whose achievement does not measure up to their potential and steps will be taken to remedy their deficiencies. This investigation will be undertaken jointly by the teaching staff and the Department's psychological service.

The curriculum for the comprehensive school will contain a core group of studies which will be examined at the Intermediate Certificate examination. This group includes Irish. English, Mathematics, and a hand-and-eye subject. Also included in this com­pulsory core of subjects is Religious Instruc­tion, which will be subject to diocesan examination. As well as this core group required for the Intermediate Certificate examination, every pupil will be required to take ''courses of study in the following sub­jects : Social and Environmental Studies (which will incorporate Civics), Physical Education, Library projects, Singing and Musical appreciation. Optional subjects will include History and Geography, Continental languages, Latin, Greek, Commerce, Rural Science, Physics, Chemistry, Biology.' The compulsory subjects will absorb some 21 hours of instruction time per week, leaving nine hours for optional subjects. The optional subjects are examination subjects and when the pupil has completed his three-year course in the subjects of his choice he can offer them in the Intermediate Certificate examination.

When the school-leaving age is raised to 1.5 years, every child in the country will have free education as far as the 'Inter­mediate Certificate level, regardless of his financial or intellectual ability. Those who wish to continue further will be streamed into the academic, commercial, or technical or apprentice scheme. Those of the academic stream will continue and take the Leaving Certificate examination. Those in the other streams will continue and take the Technical Schools' Leaving Certificate examination. The streaming will be based on the results of the expert investigation of the achieve­ments and interests of the pupil over the three-year period so that he will be able to make a realistic assessment of the goals he should set himself. If he decides to take a Leaving Certificate course, the compulsory core of subjects will be reduced. Christian Doctrine, Irish and English will remain, together with Physical Education, Musical appreciation, and Library projects. This reduction in the compulsory core will enable the student to give far more time to the subjects of his special interest. On the other hand, if the pupil decides to terminate his formal schooling at 15 years, the expert assessment of his strengths and weaknesses should be of considerable help to him in his choice of occupation.

In order to be able to continue his school­ing beyond the Intermediate Certificate level, the pupil will be dependent on either his own financial support or on financial aid from the State in the form of scholarships or grants. At this stage it is not yet known to what extent aid will be available to students of merit who have not the financial means of supporting their further education.

The issues involved in the proposed com­prehensive scheme could be broadly divided into two groups: issues concerning imple­mentation and those concerning education. According to the present Minister for Education. Mr. O'Malley, it is expected that this expansion of educational opportunity to the Intermediate Certificate level will cost the State in the region of two million pounds. As far as one can discover, that figure has been arrived at by multiplying the number of children to benefit by £25 and less. If that be the case, the Department of Education is failing to reckon the true cost of the implementation of this new scheme. Going comprehensive will involve a large increase in staff numbers. Apart from the need to expand the ordinary staff it will be necessary to employ trained people to teach the new subjects on the curriculum. In order to adequately and meaningfully assess pupils over the three-year period the Department will need to expand the num­bers employed in its psychological service. Documentation and filing on the develop­ment of a pupil will involve most schools with secretarial problems. As well as that, the introduction of wider curricula will mean an extension of facilities in most schools, apart from the need for such extension to cope with the probably increased number of entrants into post-primary education as from next September.

For the present, the brunt of the new changes rest with existing secondary and vocational schools. They are expected to co­operate in the sharing of facilities. Schools are fond of their autonomy and there is grave danger in this instance that individual schools, whether secondary or vocational, may be inclined to extend their own facilities to cater for the comprehensive programme, rather than share with a neighbouring school. If this were to happen it would in­volve duplication of facilities and be a waste of scarce money. Or if the nearest school, with which another can share facilities, is some way distant, there are bound to be transport or other problems involved in the movement of pupils from one centre to the other. Although the comprehensive idea is still in an early stage of development, these questions need to be discussed.

When we come to discuss the more edu­cational issues involved we have the Department's admission that the extension of post-primary education is due as much to social as to educational reasons. In so far as the former do not militate against the latter this aim is laudable enough. But in so far as, to quote from a statement by Dr. Hillery to the Press, when he was Minister for Educa­tion, "it is the duty of the State to strive for the opportunity of some post-primary educa­tion for all," the danger exists that educa­tional standards may have to be lowered in order to ensure expression of all ranges of ability. However, this danger may be avoided by the introduction of a grading system in assessing results in place of the existing honours-pass-fail method; any interested person scanning a pupil's achievement card in a comprehensive school will be able to distinguish between ;a pupil with straight A's and a pupil with an over-generous allowance of C's.

Another issue is the content of the core group of subjects. Even though the aim of the new system of education is to prepare better the student for the machine age, there seems to be a failure to take that very aim into consideration in the list of subjects in­cluded in the core group. A General Science course would seem to be of vital importance. It would defeat the comprehensive idea if the core group were enlarged, so that the alternative would be to drop one of the subjects already included. Mathematics would seem the least indispensible. and a General Science course ought to be included in its place. Mathematics is important in many higher areas of education, but the student who thinks he may need it at a later stage could take it as one of his options.

The failure to make History more than an optional subject is another case in point. The fact that we may never learn from His­tory is no guarantee of its unimportance. It is the subject that can best give perspective and cohesion to a whole education. For that reason it is sad to witness its present decline in secondary schools. One of the chief reasons for this decline seems to be the diffi­culty of getting high marks in it at an examination with its resultant liability as a scholarship subject. However, in the com­prehensive idea where the pupil gets not only the opportunity to develop fully his potentialities but also a broad general edu­cation without specialisation, it is a highly relevant subject. The fact that local history is included in the Social and Environmental studies course is not sufficient. Something more is needed. It might be possible to in­clude one hour a week on general history, a History-of-Western-Civilisation course trac­ing our cultural evolution from its be­ginnings to the present day. This could be done over the three-year period in a way meaningful to the age-groups involved. It would be compulsory for all those taking History as an optional subject.

For the present, the burden of implement­ing the comprehensive idea depends on the fusion of secondary and vocational levels of education. This is very well in theory but in practice it is conceivable that both systems will continue to perpetuate themselves; the vocational school could continue to provide essentially vocational subjects, with occasional gestures to the academic side of the picture, while the secondary school could make the necessary bow by taking mechanical drawing out of the basement and giving it a classroom of its own. If this were to happen, the students that begin in one of the systems, when they are better suited to the other kind, may never get the oppor­tunity to develop to their fullest potential. To prevent such an occurrence, care must be taken that the widest possible choice of subjects be available to the largest number of pupils as soon as possible.

The dependence of the comprehensive idea on a secondary-vocational fusion may have repercussions after the Intermediate Certificate examination. The tendency could well be for those pupils attending vocational schools who continue beyond this stage to take the Technical Schools' Leaving Certifi­cate. In so far as no higher facilities exist and in so far as universities continue to accept students from the academic stream only, such a pupil may well find himself in an educational cul-de-sac, or at most with a ticket to a technological college of inferior status to a university. The State has a duty to expand facilities for higher technological education and to upgrade colleges of tech­nology to university status. Otherwise, students who pursue such a course of studies will be relegated to second-class status when they proceed beyond the Technical Schools' Leaving Certificate.

Probably the greatest criticism that can be made of the comprehensive idea, as en­visaged by the Government, is its haphazard-ness. It is to be allowed to evolve out of the existing systems. The vested interests of the existing educational structure may prevent the comprehensive idea from being im­plemented. The danger exists that in the permitted laissez-faire schools will strive to become comprehensive in name by adding to their present curricula. There is the possi­bility of a great waste of money in this situation, especially in rural areas where there is an excess of small schools. Along ten miles of a road it is possible to find eight schools catering for smaller and larger num­bers of pupils. The tendency for each will be to go comprehensive alone. A more logical development would be the sharing of facilities initially and the eventual incor­poration of all into one. Admittedly, some sharing is already taking place, but how is this sharing going to lead to the fusion en­visaged? If the fusion is to be meaningful it must lead to the eventual amalgamation of schools in an area under one authority. What school will vote for its extinction? (It is only fair to mention here that the Govern­ment seems to have the problem under consideration. A recent decision on their part involves the closing of some secondary schools and permission for others to teach classes up to Intermediate Certificate only.)

This introduces the idea of the neighbour­hood school which ought to be the eventual aim of the Department of Education. The evolution of the school system to this end would have many advantages. It would in­troduce a definite goal to be achieved and give direction to existing developments. It would lead to a better use of resources be­cause, apart from preventing the duplication of facilities, especially scientific laboratories, it would enable the Department, by taking account of demographic projections in the area concerned, to invest accordingly. As things stand, it is conceivable that a school, or schools, may expand to suit present population needs only to find themselves in ten years time with empty classrooms.

But the neighbourhood school, catering for all pupils in a certain area, would have other advantages. It would make the school a part of the local community as much as the primary school is today. It would enable a meaningful parent-teacher organisation to get off the ground. This is one thing that is barely hinted at in the proposed comprehen­sive scheme, the role of the parents. In many other countries parents play an important part in the education of their children. The recent Plowden Report on Primary Educa­tion in England recommended, among other things, closer relations between schools and parents. In Ireland, parents seem to abdicate their responsibility when they send their children to school. If parents were available for consultation on a regular and formal basis, they could be of great help to teachers and psychologists in arriving at a correct assessment of a pupil. If the neighbourhood school, incorporating one parish, or more where numbers are small, were in existence, parents could get such an opportunity to express themselves and to contribute to their children's welfare.

One other point is relevant in this context. The neighbourhood school would be a day-school. According to present intentions, ex­pensive boarding schools will continue to exist, with the students paying their own fees. These fee-paying students are in danger of becoming the snobs of our educational system. (However, this development might be avoided if the State were to endow lavishly the schools it takes under its wing. Because there is very little financial patron­age of schools in this country by Old Boys or Old Girls, the fee-charging school might find it difficult to finance expensive expan­sion.) The neighbourhood school, if properly developed, could become the pride of the community. Parents, who ordinarily might be inclined to send their children to expen­sive boarding schools, might come to accept as a substitute for their snobbish inclinations, the fact of their children playing an impor­tant role in the curricular and extra­curricular activities of their neighbourhood school. This would be even more probable if parents were allowed a meaningful role in parent-teacher organisations. There are other possibilities in Boards of Governors and Scholarship Committees, etc.

The Department of Education claims that the comprehensive idea is more than the mere expansion of a curriculum and involves more than the teaching of a wide range of subjects. It is a new dimension in Irish Education. As such it is to be welcomed by all those who regard the present educational set-up as inadequate to present day needs. But the comprehensive idea is by no means a clearly thought-out system; it is still very much in the crawling stage and, before it can walk, it will demand the nurture of much discussion. It is to be hoped that all those, with a genuine interest in education, will contribute to that discussion.