An Anarchist's perspective on the Education System in Ireland.


When the Irish education system is taken into perspective, from preschool to 3rd level, each period of transition is flawed in it’s own way. Strong ties between the church, the state and our primary and secondary schools affect the growth and education of children from the moment they enter the schooling system to the moment they leave.

Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught.
Oscar Wilde

 When the Irish education system is taken into perspective, from preschool to 3rd level, each period of transition is flawed in it’s own way. Strong ties between the church, the state and our primary and secondary schools affect the growth and education of children from the moment they enter the schooling system to the moment they leave. Franciso Ferrer, possibly the most famous supporter on modern schooling, argued that:

"Rulers have always taken care to control the education of the people. They know their power is based almost entirely on the school and they insist on retaining their monopoly. The school is an instrument of domination in the hands of the ruling class,"(1)

And never has this been truer than in Ireland, where state and church run primary schools are in a majority, and where the state has such a tight control over the schools curriculum, it’s application procedure and it’s funding.

Primary Education.

From childhood to adulthood Irish children are directly affected and afflicted by the strong ties between our schooling system, the church, and the state. At primary level, children are predominantly taught in state funded national schools, convents and christian brother schools, where board members and teaching staff, if not direct members of the clergy, are generally influenced and directed by a curriculum based still within a censored and state controlled religious transition from communion to confirmation and thus the primary education of most of the children of the state is seen as a religious growth rather than a period of growth of the individual. Those primary schools which are as such, controlled by the medium of the church, in placing such strong emphasis on religious virtue, stem independent development and place the child under pressure to remain within the catholic church, in it’s build-up to their sixth and final year where they receive what they call “the gift of the holy spirit.” While the churches influence may have wained in this respect over the last decade, this form of education still accounts for a major proportion of schooling in the state. As anarchists we should oppose the influence of the church at primary school level, and all other levels, as the development of a child should not be placed in the hands of an organ of the state which for so long abused the rights of it’s children and an institution which imbibes and ultimately indoctrinates them in their adolescence with a strictly catholic bias on life.

With the growth of Ireland, and with an increasing percentage of school students who are non- nationals, there has never been a more important time for the improvement of facilities for non, and- multi denominational schools, along with the growth of non- state, parent funded schools but sadly, this is not the case.

While state funded non- denominational and multi- denominational schools do exist in Ireland, they are in a minority, and are poorly funded, with a budget of just €75, 000 per year. These schools are often based in temporary premises, an example being that of the “Educate Together” school in Mullingar which is forced to operate from the clubhouse of the local rugby club. Of the twenty three non- denominational schools opened in Ireland since 2000, only one is housed in a permanent building. The Advisory Committee to the Council of Europe Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities recently issued a document entitled “Second Opinion on Ireland.” In this document, the committee devotes a section to denominational schools and issues a strong recommendation to the Irish authorities that it “... widen schooling options ...” This is further emphasised in the committee’s concluding remarks in which it states “Further steps are also needed to accommodate the growing diversity of Irish schools, including in relation to the increasing demand for non-denominational and multi-denominational schools.”(2) They also criticised the Irish government for failing to act on these proposals, and the systematic issues that affect the education of Irish children.

Another problem that affects Irish primary education, and this problem extends to secondary education also, is that of a much larger teacher student ratio of rural students compared to their Dublin counterparts. 77% of the 3,200 small rural schools in this country have fewer than eight teachers, over half of all Irish primary schools have fewer than five teachers, and just under thirteen hundred of these have under four teachers.(3) In these schools, staffing policies can result in fifty seven students being taught by just one teacher. Such lack of funding in the primary school sector, be it on state schools or non- denominational schools cannot and should not be ignored. Full and proper education a is right and not a privilege.

But arguing for more funding for schools may not be enough. For as long as long as state funded schools exist, the education of the child is always going to be at a level overseen by the ruling elite. So, do we argue for more state funding in schools? Or do we argue against state intervention in schools in which case schools become privately funded, leading to the risk of exploitation by the capital interests of big business?

Secondary Education.

While Secondary education in Ireland still has the inherent flaws that beget the primary schools of the state, the bigger problem, as we Anarchists should argue, is the influence of Privately funded schools, which only serve to widen the gap between the privileged and the underprivileged, those who can pay and those who can not. In 2005 a figure was released that showed at least 700 students from the 20 main ‘feeder’ schools for Trinity College Dublin and University College Dublin were attending revision courses in the Institute of Education on Leeson St.

This school, and other fee paying, exam intensive schools like it, place their sole purpose on helping students pass exams rather than in their education. As such, those Institute students who do attend college have amongst the highest drop- out rates in the country. The private provision of such education is a highly lucrative market. In Ireland we have seen the rapid expansion of private education providers in the last decade and an increased prominence of these exam factories on the feeder schools lists. This can only be taken as a by- product of a system where state schools are drastically under- funded compared to their private school counterparts.

The strict rationing of existing places through the CAO points system only serves to further illustrate educational inequality in Ireland, pitting students with unequal resources against each other, in a race for a limited number of places because of the states unwillingness to properly fund third level education. Statistics that the school themselves advertise on their website show that if you can afford the fees for the Institute on Leeson Street, your chances of getting into one of Irelands three main universities increase dramatically. Figures show that applicants from the fee paying institute compared to the next, non fee- paying feeder school, are 50% more likely to win a place at Trinity College, 33% more likely to get into Dublin City University and 25% more likely to get into UCD. Imagine the statistic when compared to a school outside of the top twenty feeder schools. Fee- paying grind schools aside, 21 out of the top 24 feeder schools into Trinity College come from the greater Dublin area, and from these, the higher percentage of the schools are, while not necessarily grind schools, fee paying, and are from areas recognised as considerably more advantaged than their counterparts. These schools have significantly lower class sizes, averaging at 22- 24 students per teacher. Recent reports by the ASTI show that almost 35, 000 Junior Cert students are in classes of more than thirty, and 90, 000 students are in classes of more than twenty five. These figures show up the obvious chasm between the quality of education for those privileged enough to pay for it and those for whom gaining the points to make it to third level is an uphill struggle.

Third Level Education.

Perhaps the major problem when it comes to third level education in Ireland is the ability of students lucky enough to attain the points to attend college, to stay in college. Financially, the costs of college are a huge burden, and the government grants and registration fee relief do little to cover the large costs of those it provides for, and the family income limits set by the Higher Education Grants Scheme ensure that many students attending third level receive no government aid whatsoever. The full maintenance grant is set at €3420 for the non- adjacent grant, and €1370 for the adjacent grant.(4) An average college year of thirty weeks leaves a meagre €114 a week for the student to pay rent, pay heat and electricity, buy food, books, and other equipment necessary for college. Considering rent in Dublin alone works out at a rough estimate of €100 per week, the grant does little to cover the cost of living. We should demand that grant levels be raised to that of social welfare levels to ensure equality of education for all. We should also demand that the thresholds be increased, giving each student the same opportunity to perform to a level standard rather than a situation where students must work part- time, and even full time jobs to see themselves through third level education. The free education advocated by the Irish Government should be that- free. That means a removal of the registration fee, and for a free and continuous education for all.

Another threat to third- level education was/is the implementation of The General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) by the WTO in 1995. The goal of the GATS was to remove barriers to competition in the services sector, including transport, health and education. Such agreements have already affected Irish colleges, perhaps none more so than UCD, whose current president Hugh Brady has initiated serious reforms in the college, including a much protested semesterisation, and an increasing presence of private funding on campus. Already UCD has the O’ Reilly Hall, the Quinn School of Business and the Michael Smurfitt School of Business. Under this new neo- liberal regime UCD plans to introduce more commercial partnerships, especially in the research sector, like The Conway Institute of Bio- molecular and Biomedical Research, the €90 million price tag of which was largely funded by private donors.

The intervention of the private sector upon third level education can only serve to disrupt and negatively affect the growth of the student, as the focus of university turns more toward private research of the sponsoring companies, and not on the education of the student. In 2003, UCD was listed as a military contractor and arms supplier by the US Department of Defence. According to Department Of Defence guidelines, any company which seeks a contract from them must apply for an administrative code, called a C.A.G.E code. UCD is listed as having one of these codes since 1999. Since then, UCD has built strong links with several companies whose technologies are responsible for millions of deaths worldwide each year, such as Timony Technologies (who armed tank developers,) Analog Devices B.V. (who manufacture components for US fighter aircraft) and Rolls Royce (who supply engines for Hawk Fighter Jets.)(5) These are only the connections we know about.

Such exploitation of Universities, their research labs and their students in an attempt to attract corporate investment should always be abhorred and protested. Such links between Irish universities are unacceptable as the intervention upon education only serves the interests of those with the capital to invest in the university and as such, private funding of education by corporations should not be permissible in any circumstance.

This educational was an attempt to discuss some of the main problems affecting education in Ireland today. It may not have the answers to the problems posed but these are the things that we, as anarchists, should strive to argue, and resolve.

This educational, while by no means comprehensive, is attempt to discuss the some of the problems arising within the Irish education system. Presented to the Lucy Parsons branch of the WSM on 10/7/2007.

1 Cited by Clifford Harper, Anarchy: A Graphic Guide, p. 100
2 Taken from
3 Taken from
4 Taken from
5 Cited by Cian o’ Callahan, The UCD College Tribune, February 10th, 2003.