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New Hibernia Review 7.4 (2003) 103-122

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The Establishment of the Model School System in Ireland, 1834-1854

Thomas Mangione
The University of Chicago

On February 10, 1834, three years after the establishment of the national system of primary education in Ireland, the first Model School was opened in Upper Merrion Street, Dublin. This institution, better known as the Central Model School, was later at the heart of a larger system of provincial, or District Model Schools which would, beginning in 1849, be established across the country. 1 Model Schools were teacher-training institutions under the auspices of the Commissioners of the Board of National Education, the administrative body of the national system. Once in place, the Model School system was not only essential in its capacity to train and thus supply the national schools with competent teachers, but, as the name states, Model Schools also served as modelsfor the ordinary schools in the national system. 2 To that end, each Model School maintained at least one elementary school where student teachers could practice their skills and gain experience in leading a class. Indeed, while they were numerically insignificant, never exceeding thirty as opposed to the thousands of ordinary national schools, the Model Schools were the cornerstone of the [End Page 103] national system, providing for the vitality of the system both in their capacity to train suitable teachers and to exhibit an exemplary education. 3

Although the Model School system was one of the most important aspects of the national system, it has been not only under appreciated by recent historical scholarship, but also imperfectly understood. What follows is a consideration of the establishment and development of the Model School system during the first twenty years of its operation, from 1834 to 1854. Section one treats the Central Model School and section two deals with the District Model Schools. Special attention will be given to the substance of the board's original plans for each part of the Model School system and the modifications made to those plans as they were put into practice. Finally, to give a more complete picture of the system, this essay will also include a description of the internal and external features of the schools.

The Central Model School was, without question, the largest and single most important school in the national system. It was also, of course, the most important school in the Model School system. Because the Central Model School predated the establishment of the first District Model Schools by some fifteen years, it set the standard for their organization and operation. Aside from numerous similarities in structure, however, the intention was that all student teachers would complete their training in the Central Model School in Dublin before acquiring a position at an ordinary school. The Central Model School, therefore, was not only the prototypical Model School, but was also the capstone of the national training course.

The idea of creating a Model School in Dublin was first entertained in Lord Stanley's letter of 1831, which outlined the terms of the proposed national system. It charged the Board of National Education with the task of "Establishing and maintaining a model school in Dublin and training teachers for country schools." 4 Years later the commissioners of the board defined the fundamental objectives of an archetypal Model School as follows: [End Page 104]

  1. To promote the united education of Protestants and Roman Catholics in Common schools;
  2. To exhibit the best examples of National schools;
  3. To give a preparatory training to young teachers.
(PC 1:427)

Two additional features should also be mentioned. First, the original plan intended that only male students would be trained for the office of teacher. Female student teachers were not accepted until 1842. Second, the Model School system was to be funded and administered exclusively by the commissioners of the board. This last point was significant because it prompted the hostile reaction of the Roman Catholic hierarchy to the Model School system. Unlike the ordinary national schools, which in many cases became de facto denominational schools...


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