The educational policy of the workhouse was summed up by the master of the Ennistymon workhouse in his report to the guardians on the 14th June 1844 ". . aim . . . children to be useful and respectable members of society, the course of education such as that will require is not limited to reading, writing and arithmetic, but it likewise comprises careful moral and religious instruction as well as training in habits of industry . . . . they should know how to work with their hands, so fit them to become good servants".
The original intention of the Poor Law Commissioners was to educate workhouse children of the lesser populated unions in the local National School. A pilot scheme was carried out in Rathkeale. Apparently it was not successful, and the segregation of workhouse children and other schoolchildren, most of them of the same social background, became yet another odious feature of the workhouse system. It also condemned workhouse children to a very inferior education.
The workhouse school was run in accordance with The National Education Board. However, the Education Commissioners had little or no say in the conduct of workhouse schools. The guardians themselves, sometimes with the advice of the Poor Law Commissioners, selected the teachers, fixed their salaries and, when necessary, disciplined them.
It is understandable that, during the Famine, education would not be chief among the guardians priorities. However, it seems clear that the very nature of the rigid workhouse regime left very little room for proper education. Boards of Guardians and perhaps rate-payers in general saw very little point in spending limited funds on the education of the workhouse child. It was accepted that the employment of paupers as labourers, trade apprentices and domestic servants would relieve unions of responsibility for them. For these tasks, education was not necessary. Three hours school was the minimum required by the Poor Law Commissioners. Normal national school hours in those days was six hours.
Poor Law Inspectors visiting schools throughout the country came across some appalling conditions. Ennistymon seems to have been an exception in this regard. In August 1847 an inspecting superintendents report is read to the meetings, the male school "is well adapted for producing a cleanly orderly industrious and self relying race of people" and in the girls school "the children are clean and orderly looking". Note, however that no reference is made to educational standards. Furthermore, it is not clear from the minutes if the superintendent was from the Board of Education or the Poor Law Commissioners. An inspector from the Board of Education did report on Miltown Malbay workhouse school in 1850. The minutes of August 19th 1850, record that the report was very creditable to the teacher. No further details are given.
Meeting held at Ennistymon on Friday 14th of June 1844.
The master has to recommend that the children be regularly attended to in future, not alone at school hours or school days, but at all times between rising and going to bed and if the medical officers see no objection the master would recommend that they be taken, while the weather is fine, once a week into the country for recreation. There is nothing connected with the establishment so important as its schools from their being well attended to, mainly depends the children becoming useful and respectable members of society. The course of education such as that will require is not limited to reading, writing and arithmetic, or the acquisition of what is called learning, but it likewise comprises, careful moral and religious instruction, as well as training in habits of industry. It is not sufficient to read and write but they should know more, they should know how to work with their hands, to fit them to become good servants. At the same time this should be so arranged, as not to interfere with the regular schooling of the children.
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