Educational and social considerations were paramount in the development of community schools. The main aim of my policy in the post primary area was the provision of equality of educational opportunity for all our children irrespective of the part of the country in which they resided or the means of their parents.
To achieve this aim we had got to develop comprehensive facilities, in each area in the country, so as to cater for and develop the varying aptitudes and abilities of our children. This would entail the elimination of barriers between secondary and vocational schools so as to create a united post-primary system.
New buildings and facilities were required on an extensive scale in rapidly expanding urban and suburban areas and to replace old and obsolete buildings in towns and throughout the country. Our post primary system had developed for historical reasons, in a haphazard way, resulting in a large number of small schools and a fragmented post-primary school pattern. While expenditure on education had risen considerably, at the time, the resources at my disposal were necessarily limited and so my best efforts had got to be directed to getting the maximum return for investment in school building. It was obvious that we could provide to best advantage in the large school for the educational needs of the school-going and adult population of an area, and it was also clear that we could provide a far greater range of facilities at, relatively, far less cost in one school than by attempting to fragment these facilities in three schools, usually small schools run by Brothers, Nuns and Vocational Educational Committees. We devoted much time and effort in the promotion of co-operation between post-primary schools, but with the exception of schools in Ballinamore in Leitrim, and Boyle in Roscommon, we had little success, so to cater for the needs outlined a new type of school was needed and the Community School idea was introduced.
The facilities planned for Community Schools tool, in a range of Science Laboratories, special rooms for languages, Social Studies, Commercial Subjects, Mechanical and Technical Drawing, Home Economics and Needlework, Arts and Crafts, Music and Drama, workshops for Woodwork,] Metalwork, Engineering and Building Construction, as well as a Library, Assembly and Lecture Rooms.
We were fortunate to have a World Bank Loan approved for our Community School development. Normally only countries with a low participation rate in post-primary schools could hope to qualify for such a loan. However we received approval because we were rationalising our post-primary system through the development of State Comprehensive and Community Comprehensive Schools and that, in the process, we would lay greater stress, than heretofore on technical subjects and also because we introduced a building system, availing of the repetitive nature of the programme, which would rationalise the programme and lead to lower costs.
Community School Boards of Management would be representative of secondary school authorities, vocational education committees and parents. For the first time ever parents would be involved in school management.
Through the Deed of Trust it was ensured that the School Board would see to it that there was religious worship and religious instruction for the pupils in the school, except for such pupils whose parents make a request, in writing to the School Principal, to have their children withdrawn from such worship and instruction. Worship and instruction attended by any pupil was to be in accordance with the rites, practice and teaching of the religious denomination to which the child belonged.
Understandably, I had considerable difficulty in having the new system accepted. Religious Orders and the Vocational Education Committees, all of whom had worked diligently and successfully, in the field of education for long years, were now exchanging complete control, ownership, management and administration of their own schools for minority representation on the Boards of Management. Parents, who had achieved successful careers because of the education they had received in a small school couldn't see the need for change. I however had to keep in mind that we were living in a rapidly changing and competitive world, with more and more young people entering post primary schools, and to achieve my objective of providing equality of educational opportunity for all, change was vital.
I met with the Education Committee of the Catholic Hierarchy, with Bishops and religious leaders of other denominations, with Vocational Education Committees, with representatives of religious orders, with the teaching and other interested bodies and I patiently explained to them what I had in mind and perhaps more importantly what I had not in mind, such as for example a State takeover of schools, a suggestion going the rounds. I pointed out that apart from a small contribution from the area involved with a new community school, the community school would be as free as any other type of post primary school. There wouldn't be any representative from the Department of Education on the Board. Finally I sent a high level civil servant to each meeting in areas where the new system was being discussed, to explain, in detail, what was involved and to answer questions.
I had decided to establish the first two community schools in Tallaght and Blanchardstown (now Coolmine), two of the most rapidly expanding areas in Dublin. Both areas were in the Archdiocese of Dublin and therefore the Archbishop of Dublin, then Dr. John C. McQuaid, who was not a member of the Education Committee of the Catholic Hierarchy, was a crucial person to have with one in the matter. I knew the Archbishop to have special interest in education and a deep knowledge of the educational system and that he regarded education as a special means through which the poor could raise their sights and achieve a worthwhile future for themselves and for their families. I met with him and explained the rational behind the Community School Scheme. He immediately grasped the principles involved and he gave the scheme his full support.
I announced the plans for Tallaght and Blanchardstown and the Community School system was now well and truly off the ground. In a reply to a Dáil Question on Wednesday 28th June 1972, I was in a position to list fifty centres, in which the question of establishing Community Schools was under consideration.
Whenever I think of Community Schools, Tallaght and Blanchardstown immediately come to mind.
Rath Dé ar Thamhlacht.
Pádraig Faulkner, Minister for Education, 1969-73