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Chapter 1 — Department of Education

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Part 4 The Cussen Commission


Br Burcet was both a teacher (1954-55) and a principal (1956-69) in Artane Industrial School. In his evidence he describes the large numbers of physically and mentally disabled children in Artane during his tenure and contends that there was a change in the type of boy sent to Artane in the late 1950s and early 60s. It is his belief that with the development of social welfare services in Ireland the demographic of the resident population of Artane began to change ‘I had a sense that more disturbed children were coming into us in the 1960s, certainly in the 1960s.’


Br Burcet attempted to introduce a special needs programme within the school. He described the resistance from the Department of Education in relation to any deviation from the National Schools curriculum. His belief was that the physical welfare of the children was the primary concern of the Department So, if you are asking me how did the Department see Artane, they were looking at it from a physical care philosophy. I would say they were quite happy.


From the 1950s, the Department’s annual reports indicated a concern that secondary education should be provided to children who would be able to benefit from it. For example, the Report of 1954–55 stated that: ‘every effort is being made to make post-primary education available to those pupils suited to such’ but the evidence is that it happened in few cases.


The annual report of 1932-33 noted that ‘a few schools have afforded promising girls special opportunities for higher education’ and this trend continued in the following years. But a 1952 document, noted that St Joseph’s, Tralee was the only boys Industrial School to send its children to secondary school. With regards to the numbers of children, approximately 250 Industrial School pupils were in post-primary education, either in secondary tops, secondary schools, and vocational schools or in vocational classes confined to Industrial School pupils. The gender breakdown is striking: 11 percent of the girls (i.e. 180) against 4½ percent of the boys (i.e. 70).


The proportion of Industrial School pupils receiving post-primary education was always very low, and negligible in the case of Reformatories. As of 1963, out of the seven schools for senior boys, only two sent boys out to local secondary or vocational schools and only one provided a full vocational course within the institution. Conversely, almost all the girl schools, with only one or two exceptions, had pupils attending outside secondary or vocational schools. In some cases the secondary school was conducted by the religious community and was located beside the Industrial School; generally, however, the girls in full-time post-primary education were receiving it outside the institutions.


It is not until 1950-51 that the Department’s annual reports started to provide data on the numbers who obtained an Intermediate Certificate or Leaving Certificate:
Year Boys/Inter Girls/Inter Boys/Leaving Girls/Leaving
1951 0 5 0 2
1952 0 11 0 1
1953 Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown
1954 Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown
1955 4 21 0 5
1956 1 13 0 4
1957 1 18 2 2
1958 1 20 0 3


The Cussen Report noted that in some schools children were retained beyond the age of 16 years (the age of discharge) so as to enable them to derive benefit from a special course of training, and that such training was undertaken at the sole expense of the school. The Report advised that the Minister be given power, where he was satisfied the circumstances so warrant, to authorise a resident to remain in a school up to the age of 17 years, subject to the payment of an appropriate grant and this proposal was implemented by the Childrens Act 1941. For the remainder of the 1940s, applications were very small, ranging from two to seven per year. The numbers of successful applications rose slightly in the 1950s, peaking at 23 a year, in a school system then catering for 4,000 or so children. The reasons for the extensions, according to annual reports for the period, were to pursue secondary, vocational or commercial courses and occasionally to sit the civil service examinations or attend nursing training.


A number of the Cussen Report recommendations with regard to training came from a report entitled ‘Report on the Occupational Training provided in the Senior Boy’s Industrial Schools and in Glencree Reformatory’, which was compiled by four Departmental inspectors as part of the Cussen Committee’s Inquiry and was published as Appendix H of their Report.


The Commission was largely dissatisfied with the provision of training in the certified schools. The relevance of certain trades and the validity of the instruction provided were questioned, noting that there was a ‘complete absence of fully qualified instructors’. With regard to agricultural training the Commission found that ‘The training in farming is unsatisfactory, the work being unorganised with no systematic instruction in field or in the classroom’. The Commission also feared that the children were being treated as unpaid labourers and received no educational value for their time on the farm. Cussen consequently recommended the employment of a full-time farm manager with sufficient expertise allowing him to act as instructor. Cussen (para 57) advocated a wage to be held in trust for those children working in the schools, stating that: as the labour of the inmates is of some value to them it should be provided that a special portion of the cash value of the work of the girls for whom grants have been paid should be placed to their credit and made available for them on leaving.


The implementation of this recommendation did not occur. No record of a discussion of it within the Department has been discovered.


As with agricultural training, the motivation for training children in a number of technical disciplines seemed to be predicated upon the interests of the schools. The Report stated (at para 111) ‘It appears to us that in the majority of the schools the trades taught – many of which are obsolescent – have in view the needs of the institution rather than the future of the boys’.


Cussen recommended (para 23) therefore that more suitable and relevant crafts should be introduced in agricultural districts such as woodwork, thatching and harness making. Geographical proximity in relation to training was considered very important Schools in the vicinity of cities and industrial centres should be set aside for the teaching of special trades, and pupils in other Industrial Schools where similar facilities are not available should be transferred to these schools, if they are considered likely to benefit by a course of industrial training.


In the case of agricultural instruction, Cussen recommended the careful selection of tradesmen to train the children. and that the Department establish special courses to train instructors in the methods of teaching. In order to ensure that the training received by the pupils was both worthwhile and relevant the Cussen Report advocated regular occupational training inspections by inspectors of the Technical Instruction Branch of the Department.


After the Cussen Report, consistent criticism of the schools’ training can be seen in the annual reports of the Department of Education. These reports observed once again ‘the work turned out is principally for the use of the schools. The annual reports from this time also show that there was a continuing difficulty in placing the boys in employment following their training. The visitation report for Artane, 8-13th December 1952, took a rather different approach to this subject, remarking happily: ‘Our institutions owe a great deal to those boys who work full time at their trades. Their work is of great financial advantage to each establishment.’


In 1946 the Minister for Education enquired as to the suitability of the trades taught. He questioned that a pupil in Artane Industrial School was being taught gardening, which he felt ‘was not a suitable occupation in this day and age’. He requested that the matter of teaching trades in general be looked into. A Departmental memorandum was compiled in response to the Minister’s request, outlining the challenges facing the Resident Managers in this area, not least of which was finding suitable employment for the children. The memo went on to warn that if the Department ‘interferes much in the matter there might be a danger of the Managers trying to transfer their responsibility to the Department’. The memo also alluded to the severe criticism the Department had faced in 1952 from the Committee on Youth Unemployment for its failure to implement the recommendation of the Cussen Report with regard to industrial training. The author of the memo recommended that enquiries be made to the schools regarding: what trades were taught in the years 1943, 1944, 1945; the numbers of boys released into the trades taught; and the number of boys who were sent into different trades to the ones taught.