Wednesday, 19 July 1961
Seanad Eireann Debate
That Seanad Éireann would welcome fostering action on the part of the Minister for Education in order to encourage the Managers of National Schools to establish parent-teacher groups in connection with the schools under their management.—Senator Sheehy Skeffington.
Dr. Jessop: Unfortunately, I was was not here when this motion was being debated before. I did not know what stage it was at and I was waiting for a lead. I should like to support the motion. I have had considerable association with the schools, principally secondary schools, as a teacher, a governor and as a parent. I have seen the operation of the various organisations for bringing teachers and parents into co-operation with the view to trying to improve the effectiveness of not only the whole system of transmitting knowledge to children and encouraging them to learn their lessons, as it were, but also of the higher and more important role of the school and the school teacher in the equal forms of education, building up children in the way we hope they will continue to go and giving them a proper appreciation of their outlook in life, their duty in life, and so on.
We have come a long way from the initial days when laws were made to force parents to send their children to school. I suppose there are still some parents who have to be forced to send their children to school, but I think they are in a small minority. In those days, when those laws were necessary, that type of parent had little claim on the teacher, or his time, for the purpose of co-operation. The parent sent his child to school under duress. He would much rather have kept his child at home and much rather have employed the child at some useful manual work at home than send him to school and there was no point then in having parent-teacher organisations.
The position is quite different now. Only a very small minority of parents are unaware of the advantages of education. A very great majority send their children to school willingly and take a great deal of trouble choosing the schools to which the children go. I feel that such parents are being deprived of something they would value if they are not allowed to take the personal  interest in this education, which they wish to take, by the forming of these associations.
The teachers in this country, and in many countries, are very often obsessed with the idea that the student must get through the examinations and that a certain amount of knowledge has to be transmitted to the student by the teacher. I feel that too often that is the primary, and very often the sole, concern of the school teacher. Too often it comes to be an end, something which the pupil regards as the only thing for which he goes to school. There are a number of other things but the most obvious one, apart from the acquisition of knowledge, is the means of acquiring knowledge, how should a pupil set about not only learning a certain series of facts but teaching himself how to acquire these and other facts so that the acquisition comes more easily and more naturally. He builds up an attitude of mind towards this whole business which will help him later on when these facts have been forgotten or when the examination has been passed or failed.
It is in this business of learning how to learn that I think the parent can help the boy or girl and, incidentally, help the teacher by consultation with the teacher as to the methods to be adopted, first of all, by the teacher in the school. That may be thought to be rather presumptuous but I still feel many parents are in a position to make suggestions about that and also the method to be adopted by a parent when the child finds himself in difficulties at home and is really seriously worried about what he should do about it. From the point of view of parents and teachers, these associations would be of the greatest possible value in getting the best out of our school system for our pupils and I should like to support the motion very warmly.
Mr. Donegan: I do not want to support this motion, because, as I understand the position, it is that the  vast number of parents belong to some religious denomination or other and the machinery is that the local pastor, whether Roman Catholic or Church of Ireland, is the manager of the particular school. The pastor being the manager of the school, the natural way to have discussions or to ameliorate any difficulties regarding schools is through the pastor of the particular religious denomination who is also the manager of the school.
I feel that parent-teacher groups, which are all right in theory, bring forward to an extraordinary degree the crackpots amongst us. This situation is one which we do not wish to encourage. We all know of the “Mama's darling” or “Daddy's pet” who comes home and complains about something, whether it is lessons or discipline or something like that. There is a small minority always of the sort of parent who listens to that child and creates trouble. That parent would have an opportunity to vent any spleen he or she might have or to create a discordant situation by being a member of a parent-teacher group in relation to the school.
It is quite possible that in other countries parent-teacher groups are necessary, and not only necessary but excellent in their approach and excellent in their work. But here in this country where we have such an overwhelming majority of people who are affiliated to the various churches and where we have in fact almost entirely denominational schools, I feel that the avenue through the teacher and the manager of the school is the avenue the parents should use—if not with the teacher, then with the manager—to discuss all the aspects of the attendance of their children in the school.
Mr. Carton: I would not think it would take that trend. My experience  is not that of Senator Sheehy Skeffington or Senator Jessop as a protagonist of education in the higher sense. Five of my children go to school. The reason I support this motion is that in the past, over the years, I find that had I been associated with such a group as Senator Sheehy Skeffington envisages in this motion, I might have been closer to the education of my children. In my case, it turned out all right, but I can readily see what is in the mind of Senator Sheehy Skeffington.
There is nothing arrogant about the motion. The motion says that Seanad Éireann would welcome fostering action on the part of the Minister. There is no great demand for it, but I am sure Senator Sheehy Skeffington, like Senator Jessop, intends to point out the advantages of this system. We have not had it before and I think it would be advantageous. I think in a school pretty close to where I live, not of my denomination, they actually have a parent-teacher group in operation, with or without the knowledge of the Minister. I should still like to support Senator Sheehy Skeffington.
Mr. O'Reilly: My view is that if there is need for such association, it would be much better and much healthier that such association should grow without any fostering from anybody. Once you start fostering, you really propagate an idea that it should be done. My view is that if such associations are to serve a really valuable purpose, they should be spontaneous and come naturally from the parents in co-operation with the teacher and the manager of the school. That is my firm view on this matter.
There are practical difficulties I can see arising, should the Minister proceed to foster this idea at ministerial level. The practical difficulties, in my view, would defeat any good purpose that might be enshrined in the motion. Let me examine this motion quite objectively and seriously and in so far as it would be applicable in rural areas. I am not conversant enough with the organisation and the pattern of life in, say, Dublin or Cork to be in a position to make a statement on whether  it would be desirable to foster such an association there, but I suggest I am competent to form an opinion in regard to its operation in rural Ireland.
I do substantially agree with another speaker who said that we must face up to the facts. The system of management in our primary schools, with all its faults and no matter what criticism may be made of the manager, be he the parish priest or the clergyman in a Protestant school, is that in the majority of cases, it has worked fairly well. It is peculiar to this country and in the long run, the test of any machine is its working in practice. We cannot close our eyes to the fact that we have this system of clerical management which, in my view, is good and should be preserved. It has guarded this country against the liberalistic attitudes that seem to have brought other countries into quite a lot of trouble. Consider the system of education that developed in France over the past 100 years when liberalism was put on a very high pedestal indeed.
I should not like to see any change in the method of the management of schools. If there are abuses here and there, in my view, it is better to remedy the abuses. In any human system, you are bound to have a certain amount of abuse. You will have it in every Government Department and in all the affairs of men. You will not have everything perfect. It would not be a good thing that we should condemn a system because of isolated difficulties. We must take the overall picture. I again state that the system of management has served this country well. If there is room for improvement, it is better to build up and to improve the existing system. I should be inclined to take the view that it is a very dangerous thing to advocate a change in the system of management, without being more than sure that any new system would be better than the existing system.
Mr. O'Reilly: I hope, in my long-winded way, to relate it to the motion.  That being so, I feel I should have stated what I have stated. It would appear that, by harping long enough on a system of management, the question as to its success or otherwise can be called into question. I seldom get a chance of expressing my view. I think this is the first time that I got this opportunity. I feel bound to express the view that it is better to maintain the system and improve it and not to condemn it because of any isolated abuse. If we could ensure that all our managers, no matter what their denomination, would use as far as possible the different means at their command to improve the existing system, I believe it would serve this country well in the future and would guard us against secularism in education. How is this to be regulated to the motion?
Mr. O'Reilly: That I hope to show to the House. The motion may have some merit in certain circumstances, if we could ensure that it would work smoothly and would not create difficulties in the management of our schools.
Mr. O'Reilly: Are these groups to be elected by popular vote or are they to be self-appointed? Senator Sheehy Skeffington seems to think that I am cynical in this matter. Honestly, I can assure him that I am not. Here is what he would find happening in practice. The working of a machine in practice is what really counts. I could envisage this happening. In rural Ireland, the manager of a school is either the parish priest or the rector. They are responsible for their flocks and are responsible for the management of the school among other things. That is the more direct responsibility. If the manager should develop, or foster even on his own account without any fostering from the Minister, a group of people, parents, and possibly people who are not parents in some cases, to aid him in the better running of the schools and to develop an atmosphere  of co-operation, you might have jealousies.
You have pride and prejudice in rural areas as to who is on this committee and who is on that committee. I know from experience that that can create a lot of jealousy. Are we to have a hand-picked parish council? We have the idea of parish councils in existence already. I readily admit that a lot of good can be achieved by such councils operating in rural areas. Perhaps the same applies to cities but I do not know. Who is to appoint the parish committees? It seems to be a rule of thumb that some people find themselves on parish councils, while other people do not agree they should be on parish councils. You have not the harmony which the motion would seem to suggest.
Mr. O'Reilly: It would be as well to say that that would be the essence of democracy, but it would also be chaotic democracy, if you were to have all the people decide on the Road Traffic Act or decide this motion. I think it can be readily understood how ineffective that approach would be. That is what would happen. It would be as logical, in my view, to argue that all the parents should be asked to have a voice in the decision as to whether the substance of this motion is practical or not, but it would not be a practical way of deciding the motion, if all the parents were called together on the Hill of Tara to decide this issue.
If you are to have progress at all in a democracy, it is the representatives of the people who are to decide issues. That is the difference I always saw between republicanism and democracy. Speaking as a republican, it is the better system. Because of that, I do not  think that the substance of this motion is practical. If there is anything in the idea, it is better for those organisations, where they are desirable, to spring up spontaneously without fostering action from a Minister.
Mr. Barry: I have to ask myself a few questions about this. One is: will this improve the system we have now? Another is: will it injure the authority of the teachers or will it be used for that purpose? There are other questions. Would it provide a sounding board for crackpots or, indeed, are there any more sounding boards required in this country for crackpots? Is it practical to do away with the system of corporal punishment? I am fond of children, but I think some corporal punishment is sometimes desirable. I have come to the conclusion that I would approve of the establishment of a system for the protection of teachers from a certain type of children.
Mr. Ryan: I should like to support this motion. I think it is true to say that at the moment in very many schools, there is very little liaison between the teachers and the parents. One very often hears complaints by parents about the teachers and about what goes on in schools. I think it is usually true to say that the more parents complain to one another and to other members of the public, the less they do about it. They never go to the extent of complaining to the teachers and the managers. That is sometimes due to the fact that they feel that if they complain to the teacher, their own children will suffer. Consequently, rather than bell the cat themselves, they decide to do nothing about it. The unfortunate thing about it is that the problems which they have are often relatively small, problems which could be put right by merely stating the reasons for the complaints to the teachers. But the parents do not do anything of a practical nature about it ; they merely complain to one another. For that reason, a great deal of dissension and a great deal of hard feeling is built up quite unnecessarily between the parents and the school authorities.
 This is not merely a one-way traffic. There is often a great deal of ill-feeling on the part of teachers towards the parents also. Again, the problems which teachers have are very seldom put across to the parents in a sufficiently clear way. There are a great number of problems, none of them very big, but problems of some importance in their own way, which get worse and worse, due to lack of understanding and of communication between the parents and the school authorities. These are problems which could very easily be smoothed out in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred.
Nobody will say that every school in the country is running smoothly. Nobody will say that education is a simple matter. Education is a very difficult subject, and because it is difficult, every school has its own problems, some of them relatively big but most of them very small. I do not know exactly what form the proposed parent-teacher groups would take or who would appoint them or anything else, but groups of the type which have been suggested could help to smooth out the kind of problems we have in schools throughout the country.
There are a hundred and one things which they could do. They could discuss such matters as hours. As far as I know, the Department of Education lays down the number of hours which students must attend but there is no rigid rule as to when schools should begin or how long the lunch hour should be. That is a matter which in many schools is a problem —whether or not there should be a long break in the middle of the day to allow the children to go home for lunch or a very short break to get the school day over as quickly as possible. It seems to me that these are the kind of problems which could very profitably be discussed between teachers and parents.
The condition of the school buildings is something which gives a great deal of trouble, and very often small alterations costing very little could make a great deal of difference to the condition of the school. If the parents were in a position to give their advice and make their suggestions, they would  also go a little bit further, I believe, in putting these suggestions into operation. There are a number of other things, such as the amenities in the school, the question of punishment, activities for children outside school, about which a parent-group could be a very great assistance and could improve the education in the school and the relations between the teachers and the parents.
It should be remembered, when we are discussing the question of education, that education is fundamentally the responsibility of the parent, and not of the school authorities. Merely to send the children to school and delegate the authority for education is no reason why a parent should wash his hands in the question of education, and feel that he has no further responsibility for the child or the type of education he is getting, or whether he is getting a good education, or all the details of that education. If these groups would enable the parents to keep more closely in touch with what is going on, it would be a good thing. By keeping in touch in that way, parents would be able to carry out their fundamental responsibility more effectively.
Some of the speakers who spoke against this motion expressed the fear that the groups would dominate the school, would try to exercise their authority contrary to the teachers, that the teachers would live in fear of being dismissed by them, and so on. I do not think that the proposer of the motion had such a group in mind. I do not think he had in mind a group which would have any power of that kind, nor do I think it possible under the present system for a group formed by parents to have any authority of this kind. If there were any suggestion that there should be this kind of power and authority, I certainly would be completely against such groups.
I visualise these groups as being merely groups who would make suggestions, voice complaints, or give advice, but have no power after that to impose their wishes on the school authorities. They would have no more power as a group than they have as  individuals at the moment to make recommendations about the way their children should be educated. If the intention is a group of this kind with no power but with plenty of opportunities to advise, to suggest, to smooth out the relationship between teachers and parents, then they certainly would serve a useful purpose.
Professor Stanford: This motion has already been very fully debated, as it clearly deserves, and at this late stage of the debate, I do not propose to go into any details or to add any arguments, but I should like to say that I support it fully. It is a democratic proposal in the fullest sense of the word— government of the people for the people by the people. This is the kind of local government we should encourage as far as possible. Perhaps the word “government” is a little strong. It will, of course, primarily be advisory, but advice is one of the adjuncts of government which we must foster and I think, in the fullest sense of the word, this is a democratic motion. It is also reasonably phrased, even mildly phrased, and I should be surprised if the Minister, being a reasonable and mild man, cannot see his way to taking some fostering action in this matter as the motion suggests.
Minister for Education (Dr. Hillery): I had lost a bit of the thread of the debate due to the delay, but I did hear the earlier arguments on the merits of such groups as proposed in the motion and the arguments against the setting up of those groups. I feel that it is not for me to add up the arguments here in the House but to state my position in relation to the motion. I think I can accept that the mover of the motion does not want to replace the management of schools by this group, as was suggested by one member. Providing the management of schools is a very big task and a very difficult undertaking, and from the point of view of administration. I must have some one person responsible to me for the management of the schools. The manager of each school is charged with the direct responsibility of the government of his school as at present. It is, of course, open to him to set up or to recognise a spontaneously developed  consultative committee, but the responsibility in dealing with the Department of Education rests squarely on the shoulders of the manager, as far as the school government is concerned.
I do not think any other arrangement for management would be feasible, even though it were thought desirable. Groups who take responsibility are inclined not to accept full responsibility and they are inclined to break into separate groups with different ideas. I have had experience in relation to one school of three parent groups. It was quite satisfactory until there were three different results. The first group said theirs was satisfactory. The second group had negotiations and discussions with me. They found that the negotiations with the first group were not satisfactory, and the day after the third group asked to see me, because they thought I had fooled the second group.
I could not accept any motion that attempted to take responsibility and distribute it in a vague way over a large group of people. I do not think that is the intention of the motion but I thought it better from my own point of view to say that first. The proposer of the motion discussed all the merits of such groups in isolation from responsibility, and those against it spoke of all the bad things that could happen in such groups: cranks getting hold of them and reducing or diverting the responsibility of managers. It is a fundamental weakness to take it for granted that such a committee or such a parent-teacher group is good at all times, in all cases, in all circumstances and for all purposes. I do not think it is. I can see circumstances where it would be a good idea for a particular purpose and a particular occasion, and I should be very glad to see such a group on those occasions.
There is the question of excessive corporal punishment in our schools, and indeed excessive mental punishment which is not objected to so strongly, but is equally objectionable to me. Excessive punishment in schools is abhorrent to me, as I am sure it would be to any Minister for Education and to any normal person —I suppose I should say to any other normal person.
It is not always easy to bring proofs of the offence home, for a variety of reasons. One of the main reasons, from my experience before I became Minister, is that parents are timid and inarticulate, and are not always prepared or able to make their complaints in the right place and in the right way. A parent-teacher group could act as spokesman for the timid parents and act as mediator or interpreter between the teacher, the child, the parents and the manager.
That type of mediation with a consequent resolving of a great number of complaints would be preferable to me and to the Department rather than having to take such action as the withdrawal of recognition from teachers, the withdrawal of recognition as principal or vice-principal, a reduction of salary, or the various penalties which we do impose but do not reveal publicly in the specific cases concerned. I regret having to do those things but they must be done. A parent-teacher group could in many cases avoid the necessity of my having to take action at all.
Moreover, such a group might put an end to many unfounded charges against teachers, and unfounded charges are sometimes made. I may be asked what harm is an unfounded charge because every charge that is made comes before the Minister and he examines it. Teachers are human. They find themselves exposed to the glare of publicity and an image created of them which no one would desire. That in itself is a punishment before there is any proof that he is an offender. Such committees would protect our teachers from the irresponsible and sometimes almost sadistic attacks made on them on the basis of charges which are not fully investigated, or by people who are not fully informed of all the circumstances.
When introducing this motion, Senator Sheehy Skeffington mentioned other areas in which I agree they would be useful but he did not take the same line which I would take. He thought we were preventing people from going into our schools and that  we did not want these groups to go into our schools because they are in such a bad condition. We welcome parents who come into our schools because they own them. They may be able to see what could be done to stimulate the very rapid increase in school building which has gone on in recent years. They may be able to see how a lot of good could be done locally because the school is not a State school. It is locally owned by the people of the parish or by a religious group, whatever it happens to be.
The Senator also mentioned, as did Senator Ryan, the problems of the teachers. One of the problems mentioned by Senator Sheehy Skeffington was the very large classes. I should like to say that as well as being rapidly on the road to reducing those large classes, we are now beginning to get the extra teachers required to improve the ratio between teacher and pupils. It is not possible to improve that ratio without an adequate supply of teachers. The removal of the marriage ban, as well as the increased training college accommodation, is making that possible. About four times in the past few years, we improved the ratio, and we expect to do much better in the years to come. Again, perhaps a committee or a group would be useful in informing the parents of what is going on in the schools.
The idea behind the manager being a pastor of the religion of the parents is that he is about the only one who could adequately represent all the parents. It is sometimes forgotten that parents' rights extend only to his or her own children, and do not extend to the children of other people. No body of persons, even if they are parents, are entitled to speak for the children of other parents. Even a majority of parents would not have the right to take from a minority, or even a single parent, his natural rights which are inalienable.
All in all, if parents' rights have to be centred in one person and if I depend on his responsibility in assuming the government of the school, it is probably best for every  practical purpose that the representative of the parents should be a person nominated by the church to which they belong.
To provide the management of schools is a great undertaking. I should like to make it clear that I see no objection to a committee being formed. The manager has the right to form them himself or to recognise them as a consultative committee, but I am not prepared to be the person to decide that a committee should exist in a particular school in particular circumstances. I would welcome the spontaneous development of these parent-teacher groups for the reasons I have given and many other reasons, but I do not think that their development by direction of a Minister could be regarded as democratic, as Senator Stanford said. It would be very desirable if parents spontaneously got together and formed these groups, but, on the other hand, if they are formed by direction or fostering action by the Minister, they may fall flat and not bring about all the good things we could see them do.
As to fostering action, it is very difficult to take action which is not a direction. A circular from me to the managers is as near as you could get to direction. Somebody said we should circularise managers. The nearest I could get to it is to say that I would welcome the spontaneous formation of such groups, that I can see many areas where they can do good, but everybody should be clear on the idea of limiting them to consultative groups who would consult with the managers and the manager would have the right to accept spontaneously developed consultative groups.
As somebody pointed out, the whole group would have to be representative of all the parents and all the parents would have to have access to the group. Whether they in turn in electing a representative committee would be taking away the rights of some parents I do not know, but that is as far as I can go: I would welcome the formation of spontaneous committees and see many circumstances in which they could do good. I cannot say that they  would be a good thing at all times, in all circumstances and in all places.
Dr. Sheehy Skeffington: I should like to start, speaking on the closure of this motion, by saying that I appreciate very much the spirit in which the Minister met it, the conciliatory tone, the tone which, in fact, I expected from him, and recognising the merits of such parent-teacher groups.
Before I come to the particular points he made, I should like just to mention one or two points made by other speakers. I appreciate very much the support given to the motion by Senator Cole in the first place, who made it quite clear—and I think he was right—that there is an increasing interest in this whole matter throughout the country.
I think the point, too, was made with great authority by Senator Jessop that the school itself is helped by this meeting together of parents and teachers, without there being necessarily any specific object for the meeting. It is not necessary even that they should be consultative. They should just get together to meet in the friendly atmosphere thus engendered.
Senators Carton, Ryan and Stanford all spoke showing the advantages that could accrue from such meetings. Senator Ryan made the point that a good deal of unnecessary ill-will can arise between parents and teachers. I agree that one way of getting rid of that type of ill-will is simply to bring both together, again not necessarily to deal with a specific point, but the mere getting together would in itself be fruitful, as Senator Ryan suggests.
There were others who spoke against the idea. Senator Donegan opposed it, as he felt it might be dangerous. Senator Barry said you might get crackpots—I think Senator Donegan used the word first—on those committees, and that would be a terrible thing. I dealt with that in my first speech and suggested that the crackpot is easier to deal with before the bar of parental opinion in a parent-teacher group than in the private sanctum of the school manager. He  becomes considerably less of a nuisance if he makes a fool of himself before other parents, who can answer him more easily, and often much more strongly than the manager or teacher feels he can do.
On the other hand, there are various definitions of a “crackpot”. Sometimes the crackpot is merely a man who holds opinions that you do not share and puts them so clearly that it makes you mad. If that is what you are afraid of, you will be very reluctant, of course, to provide him with a forum, but if he is a genuine crackpot, and will be seen to be so by parent-teacher opinion together, then the parent-teacher group is the best way to deal with him.
I was a little disappointed when Senator Barry and others spoke on the assumption—the tacit assumption or perhaps the unconscious assumption— that there is always hostility between parents and teachers, and that if you bring them together there will be a row. I do not believe that. There may be, as Senator Ryan said, some unnecessary ill feeling, but I believe that nothing but good could come from their meeting together in this way, and I am a little surprised at the assumption that if you bring them together the main result will be a row.
When I proposed the motion on April 19 after Senator Cole supported it Senators Ó Maoláin and Quinlan opposed. Senator Ó Maoláin spoke with the voice of reaction, opposing the whole idea under the guise of a high Tory in a way I did not understand. It was probably something to do with the present negotiations on entry into the Common Market with Great Britain's Conservative Government, but I did not recognise Senator Ó Maoláin in the guise of high Tory.
Dr. Sheehy Skeffington: The speeches made by Senators Ó Maoláin and Quinlan seemed to me very silly speeches indeed, with the one difference, I may say, that I do not believe Senator Ó Maoláin is quite as silly as he would have us believe. I am not  quite so sure, I am afraid, about Senator Quinlan, because I am afraid Senator Quinlan probably genuinely believes some of the silliest things he says.
Senator Ó Maoláin said I had suggested that these parent-teacher groups would be expected to deal with “grave problems,” whereas of course I did not suggest anything of the kind. He seemed to imply that parents are highly dangerous creatures, and he implied, as did others today, that he was afraid of giving Irish parents any say at all in the education of their children. He even suggested that if you had parent-teacher groups they would be little Soviet committees in the villages. Where do these Irish parents come from? Where do Irish parents get their education? The ordinary Irish parent who, I take it, would be gathered into the school where his or her child was being educated, has been educated probably in the very same school. How do these people suddenly become Soviets when they leave school? What is wrong with our education? Either it is good, in which case you do not get little Communists simply by bringing parents together, but if you do get Soviets by bringing them together, in that case our education is presumably bad, and they have not been taught the way in which free people can discuss things freely.
I do not want to go in full detail into what Senator Ó Maoláin said. He told us, however, that the managerial system is a native growth, whereas of course he knows as well as I do that it was brought in by a British Act of Parliament. In any case, I was not attacking the managerial system. I was suggesting, well within the system, a way in which greater comprehension and co-operation could exist between parents and teachers. I do not believe that if you had greater comprehension and co-operation between the teachers and parents the managerial system would suffer. On the contrary, I think it would benefit.
Carried away by emotion, Senator Ó Maoláin suggested such groups would be “the thin end of the wedge which would open the floodgates and torpedo the whole system of education.” Apart from the oddity of the floodgates torpedoing the system of education, that seems to be so exaggerated a statement about our unfortunate Irish parents that I cannot understand it. The suggestion is that if you let the parents meet the teachers in the school, then the whole managerial system will collapse. Why? Is the system so weak, and is it likely to be subjected to such crushing criticism? I do not believe that is the case, but Senator Ó Maoláin does not think that the teachers, and I quote from column 98 of the Official Report:
They are emphatically not self-appointed committee-men. My suggestion was that all parents, in particular sections of the school in turn, should be invited and encouraged to come into the school. They are not self-appointed committee-men, and they are not seeking for power in the school. The Senator made a variety of other points. In one case he dealt with a quotation which I gave and I quote Senator Ó Maoláin at column 94:
Senator Sheehy Skeffington referred to these parent-teacher groups in the United States of America and gave a quotation which was interesting in itself, but I should like to insist that the system which we have evolved here of managerial control of the schools and the operation of managerial supervision is a unique system. It is an Irish system....
and so on. I quoted from an article by Mr. Rafferty, who is the Secretary of the Department of Education, and who is not known to be wildly Communistic or wildly revolutionary, and the article in question was published in Studies, which is edited by Father Roland Burke-Savage who is not known to be over-rash in the kind of ideas he allows to be propagated. I quote again from that article what I quoted before. It is at column 83 of the Official Report and Mr. Rafferty says:—
Introduction of this parent committee business would lead to the other position which I pointed out at the start, not immediately, but eventually, and the present system of management of our schools would eventually be upset and we would have then in effect, what would be Soviet committees in every parish.
I cannot believe that that would be the result of the setting up of such parent-teacher groups. I was surprised, and I am sorry he is not here, when Senator Quinlan first proceeded to support this view of Senator Ó Maoláin's and then went on to criticise the curriculum and the text books, and the lack of local autonomy in relation to the curriculum, and at column 101 he says:
If I were to quarrel with the present system, I would quarrel with it on some of those grounds, that it is far too centralised in that respect, that there is too little local autonomy and too much time spent framing a uniform system for the young lad going out to earn his living on the farm ...
Yet, he too seems to be terrified at the very notion of Irish parents, the product of the Irish educational system, coming together, because apparently they would smash the system that educated them. Parents, in other words, are regarded at best as a confounded nuisance.
The Minister made a number of points in which he made it clear that he saw value, I am glad to say, in the founding of such groups. He struck one note of caution which I think was  legitimate. He said these parent-teacher groups could not take over the running of the schools, and in justice to me said that in fact I had not suggested that. I might be permitted to quote what I did say last April at column 85 when I said:
In my opinion, the function of such a parent-teacher group would not be in any sense managerial. It would not be a case of setting up such a group as a committee to undertake the running of some part of the school. It should not even be formally advisory or consultative. It would not be a parent-teacher group to which one would submit proposals. It would consist simply of informal meetings and discussions between parents and teachers. In a small school, all the parents would be invited to attend, say, twice a term in the school, and in a large school, you might divide the parents according to the ages of their children and their grades and invite two or three groups at different times.
He made the point then that parents sometimes are “timid and inarticulate”, and might well be induced to express themselves in the presence of other parents and teachers in a valuable way. He said he would welcome the setting up of such groups, if they came about spontaneously. He also said that he would like to see the parents visiting the schools. I should like to see them invited to the schools by the school manager. I should like them to meet the teachers, not just one by one, but coming there regularly as an invited group. He did say also that there were a number of other things which in his opinion would be invaluable about such groups, yet he was not prepared to “direct” that they would be formed. He said that almost any circular from him would be taken as a “direction”. I could quote two or three regulations in which it is clear that the Minister can issue, and has issued, circulars drawing the attention of school managers to “the desirability” of such and such an action; for instance, the inviting of lecturers to the school, and so on. That would be the type of “fostering action” which I would hope the Minister would be prepared to consider in this case.
When I think about Irish education, I think about Patrick Pearse, and I am afraid sometimes we are more terrified of free discussion still and of free meetings in our schools than would ever have occurred to Pearse as being possible in a free Ireland. In his essay entitled “The Murder Machine” on page four he says:
To the children of the free were taught all noble and goodly things which would tend to make them strong and proud and valiant; from the children of the slaves all such dangerous knowledge was hidden. They were taught not to be strong and proud and valiant, but to be sleek, to be obsequious, to be dexterous: the object was not to make them good men, but to make them good slaves. And so in Ireland. The education system here was designed by our masters in order to make us willing or at least manageable slaves.
Mr. John Dillon declared that one of the first of those tasks (those awaiting an Irish Parliament) was the recasting of the Irish education system, by which he meant the English education system in Ireland. The declaration alarmed the Bishop of Limerick, always suspicious of Mr. Dillon, and he told that statesman in effect that the Irish education system did not need recasting—that all was well there.
We were told similarly to-day, by Senator O'Reilly among others, that all is well now, and that the system does not need recasting, nothing need be done and everything in the garden is rosy. I suggest that there are many things, among them those that Pearse dreamt of in relation to Irish education, which still remain to be done, and which could be helped at least by a friendly bringing together of parents and teachers in our National schools.
The Ard Fheis believes it is desirable and necessary to establish, for every national school, in the interest of the education, discipline and happy development of the children a consultative committee of parents, manager and teachers, and asks the Government to take the necessary steps towards this end.
That Motion was proposed by the Padraig Pearse Cumann, Dublin North East. The Motion was negatived, I am sorry to say, but I am glad to see that in the Government Party there are at least some parents who feel that this would be a valuable thing.
I quote now from the Irish Independent of 29th December, 1956, an article by Mr. Thomas O'Callaghan. The newspaper mentioned that the author had recently been appointed, with Professor Lyons of U.C.C., by the Minister for Agriculture to represent Muintir na Tíre on the Agricultural Production Council. This is what he says:
Even in the field of education we find an anomalous position. Article 42 of the Constitution clearly defines that the State acknowledges that the primary and natural educator of the child is the family and guarantees to respect the inalienable right and duty of parents to provide, according to their means, for the religious and moral, intellectual, physical and social education of their children.
Although lip service is paid to this, what is the actual position? Are the parents ever consulted about the type of education they wish their children to get. Standards are set and exam papers laid out in an arbitrary manner by a few officials in the Department of Education who may (or who may not) be the most competent people to entirely judge the important issues at stake. As far as rural children are concerned they are taught a system based entirely on urban conception.
The good sisters in Saint Mary's College, Ballyroan, Rathfarnham, have come up with a novel, interesting idea which they call a Parent-Teacher Club. The club is to meet a few times every term and listen to a lecture by somebody of importance. The lectures will be followed by a tea at which the parents will have a chance of meeting the teachers. The meeting will conclude with a question time.
It is hoped to open the club on Sunday, December 11, with a lecture on musical appreciation by Fr. William Murphy, P.P., Bray. And I hear that Rev. Dr. Feichin O'Doherty of U.C.D. is also on the panel of lecturers.
So there is a parent-teacher club or group actually functioning, and apparently, as far as news items can be relied on, they have not yet turned into a local Soviet. Of course, many secondary schools, I think of the High School, of Mountjoy School, of Sandford Park School, and many others, of Avoca School, Blackrock—one of the first to have parent-teacher groups in this country, I believe—already have such groups, secondary schools, like this school in Rathfarnham. I have heard, indeed, that the Headmaster of Portora School in the North actually comes down a few times during the year to visit parents of Dublin boys at his school.
Parent-teacher groups exist already, therefore, in secondary schools. If they can exist in secondary schools, why not in primary schools? There should be no class distinction in this. If they can be carried out without danger to the whole educational system in secondary schools, why should they be withheld or sneered at in relation to primary schools?
I should like now to quote from a speech reported in the Irish  Independent of 7th December, 1959, which was made by the Very Reverend G. Perrott, S.J., Rector, Mungret College, Limerick. He made the following comments at the Annual Dinner of the College Union in the Central Hotel, Dublin:
There was, he continued, too much hesitation among parents in this matter of education. They should remember the teachers were their servants. They should give them praise and blame where they deserved it. Parents were too slow to criticise either the school or the State.
I am trying to establish the fact that this is not merely a personal view of mine, but one which has widespread support in all kinds of circles. I do not want to delay the House very much longer, but I do wish to quote from a series of articles which appeared in the Irish Catholic early last year signed by “Gallowglass”.
Dr. Sheehy Skeffington: In deference to the wishes of the Chair and to the wishes of the House I do not intend to quote at very great length. I do want to establish the point, however, that a perfectly reputable Catholic paper sponsoring a Catholic journalist can put the point that parents can help by having parent-teacher groups. In fact, there is a whole series of articles, about four in succession. The first appeared on 4th February, 1960. I shall just quote one passage from the article of 11th February, 1960. This is what “Gallowglass” said:
There is a lot more on that line, which I could quote from this excellent series of articles, appearing in the Irish Catholic and written by a wholly responsible journalist, but I think I have said nearly enough to establish the fact that this is not just an isolated request on my part, but something that is seen to be valuable by a very wide number of people.
I should now just like to deal with the fact that in some areas you find that groups of parents are getting together, or groups of teachers, “specially convened” for particular occasions, for a particular purpose. Now, I suggest that when parents come together it is always a good thing; but I submit that if they can meet in ordinary harmony with the teachers, without any specific and immediate object, it will be even better.
I have seen it suggested that before a recent inquiry held by the Department of Education, a specially convened group of parents was addressed by a member of the I.N.T.O., and told that if a particular teacher was dismissed after this enquiry, the I.N.T.O. would boycott the school. In other words, a meeting of parents was  specially convened simply to listen to this speech, a speech which might be taken, I suggest, as being very close to intimidation before the Department of Education enquiry. Now if meetings like that can be specially convened for particular purposes—other examples occur to one, but I will not mention them—then why not have them for the general good of the schools throughout the country?
I may say that I thought my first speech, in introducing this motion on April 9th, was an eminently reasonable speech. Perhaps, I do not always make reasonable speeches, but I thought I made an eminently reasonable speech then. If anybody took the trouble to read it, he would know that I was not crying for the moon but that I was asking for something which would be quite easily granted. All I was asking for was a coming together, within the orbit of the educational system in our national schools, of groups of parents and teachers to help one another and to meet one another. The social aspect is just as important in my opinion as the advisory and consultative aspect. The mere meeting of the teachers with the parents prevents teachers from being ignorant about parents and prevents parents from being ignorant about teachers. Joint discussions would let some light and air into the whole relationship between parents and teachers, which is not now always of the happiest in some of these schools.
I should like to see such free discussions, free meetings and free co-operation encouraged. I am afraid that the element of freedom has not yet, despite the aspirations of Patrick Pearse, been sufficiently brought into our schools. I should like, with the permission of the Chair, to make just one last quotation from Patrick Pearse. This is what he says:
The word freedom is no longer understood in Ireland. We have no experience of the thing, and we have almost lost our conception of the idea. So completely is this true that the very organisations which exist in Ireland to champion freedom show no disposition themselves to accord freedom: they challenge a great  tyranny, but they erect their little tyrannies. “Thou shalt not” is half the law of Ireland, and the other half is “thou must.”
Now nowhere has the law of “Thou shalt not” and “Thou must” been so rigorous as in the schoolroom. Surely the first essential of healthy life there was freedom. But there has been and there is no freedom in Irish education: no freedom for the child, no freedom for the teacher, no freedom for the school.
I should like to hope consequently that in the spirit of that essay we might in the future relationships between parents and teachers in the national schools in Ireland set something of that spirit of freedom, so dear to Patrick Pearse, something of that spirit of give and take, and something of that spirit of comprehension and co-operation which I mentioned last time.
My hope is, therefore, that the Minister will start very simply and foster the idea, and indicate now by circular what he has already, I am glad to say, indicated here today, and that he  would recommend the setting up of such parent-teacher groups in national schools where it was feasible and where the management of the school considered that it could be carried out. My hope is that both sides would learn a little from this, both teachers and parents, for their mutual benefit, and for the benefit of the children in the schools.
I can see nothing but good coming from such an encouragement and fostering of mutual understanding and respect in the face of the many problems of primary education which are the common concern of teachers, parents, managers, the Minister for Education and his Department. I hope, therefore, that the Seanad will agree with me that Seanad Éireann would welcome fostering action on the part of the Minister for Education in order to encourage the managers of the national schools to establish parent-teacher groups in connection with the schools under their management, and I should like to ask the Seanad to vote for that motion.
Cole, John C.
Davidson, Mary F.
Murphy, Dominick F.
|O'Keeffe, James J.
Sheehy Skeffington, Owen L.
Sheridan, John D.
Stanford, William B.
Brennan, John J.
Dillon, Gerard B.
Farnan, Robert P.
Ó Ciosáin, Eamon
Ó Donnabháin, Seán.
Ó Grádaigh, Seán.
Ó Maoláin, Tomás.
Ó Siochfhradha, Pádraig.
Quinlan, Patrick M.
Sheridan, Joseph M.
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