Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

manifest that good work could not be done unless the designs of the schoolhouses were improved. The Resident Commissioner had an interview with Commissioners of the Board of Public Works in September, 1899, when recent reforms were in contemplation, and it was agreed that, in the revised plans which the Board of Public Works were then preparing, provision should be made for some of the requirements of the new system.

Upon consideration of our proposals, the Treasury refused to sanction the suggested accumulation of balances; they deferred a decision upon the treatment of necessitous districts; and finally, reminded us that we must look forward to a discontinuance of building grants at an early date. At the same time they authorized us to proceed with grants on the assumption that Parliament would be asked to vote not more than £40,000 a year in the two years 1902-3 and 1903-4.* A sum not exceeding £10,000 per annum out of this might be allotted to grants for workshops for manual and technical instruction.

In April, 1902, by suggesting certain economies in respect of well-to-do areas, we sought to provide a larger grant than two-thirds of the cost in the case of impoverished districts; and, furthermore, we proposed that, in the cases of schools vested in trustees, loans might be authorized, on approved security, to supplement the ordinary grants. In a further letter we represented that, unless more favourable terms were granted in poor districts, “the necessitous areas must continue to remain a blot on the national system of education.” We, moreover, expressed our regret that sanitary and lavatory accommodation was disregarded in the standard plans, and urged upon the Government the desirability of revising the plans so as to bring them up to modern requirements.

In their reply the Treasury proposed to allow a grant, in certain cases,' equal to three-quarters of the cost, but refused to sanction loans to meet the local aid required in the case of vested schools, in view, inter alia, of the fact that legislation would be required to give effect to this proposal. They suggested that the standard plans should be considered by a small committee.

The remarkable addendum followed, that the Treasury were considering the possibility of converting the annual building grant into a grant-in-aid, upon which there should be no surrender of unspent balances.

We agreed to the proposal to appoint a committee, and nominated the Resident Commissioner as our representative. The Treasury urged the need of expedition on the part of the committee, who should be pressed to prepare a very early

• The sums actually inserted in the estimates for this service for the past four years have been— 1902–3, £35,000 ; 1903–4, £35,000; 1904-5, £12,500; 1905-6, £20,000

Building report, as the subject of building grants had already been under Grants. consideration for a longer time than could have been wished.

The committee met in September, 1902, and reported in the following November. All this must not he forgotten in view of the circumstance that the important questions included in the reference to the committee still remain unsettled.

As no decision on the report of the committee was arrived at, we were empowered, in March, 1903, to resume the award of grants in pressing cases. In most instances in which grants have been made since that date the applicants have been called upon to furnish special plans in order that the schoolhouses should be adapted to modern requirements. A class-room for each teacher has been insisted on, and suitable and adequate hat and cloak room and lavatory accommodation have in all cases been required. The Board of Public Works furnished special estimates in connection with these plans, and, in large towns and their vicinity, considerable increases on the existing standard scale of grants were allowed; but notwithstanding these increases the grant usually fell far short of two-thirds of the cost, and as a result the managers concerned, in many instances, elected to await the sanction of an improved scale of grants which they were led to believe would be the outcome of the deliberations of the Government and the Treasury.

[ocr errors]

In our reports for the years 1903 and 1904, we have already strongly aniniadverted upon the serious embarrassment occasioned to us by the prolonged delay in the settlement of this question. The managers repeatedly pressed upon us the urgent nature of their applications and the necessity of providing suitable accommodation for the pupils attending their schools, but we were powerless to assist them. We were also prevented from compelling the managers of schools held in overcrowded and insanitary houses to take steps towards providing satisfactory buildings.

Notwithstanding our frequent representations, it was not until August, 1905, that the first attempt was made by the Treasury to settle the question. It had been previously intimated to us that Their Lordships requested that no new grants should be made pending the consideration of a further letter which they proposed to address to the Irish Government; and although in the circumstances we agreed to the suspension of grants for a period of only three months, we have not yet been authorised to proceed with the making of grants for either building or improving National school-houses.

The Treasury proposed to provide only for cases in a confidential return of unsuitable houses which was prepared in 1902, and which included only schools for which no applications for grants had been made. They also proposed that the Develop

ment Grant should bear a part of the cost of the total sum required, the money voted to be spread over some years. The expenditure on any cases which might arise after that date was to be met either out of the Development Grant or from local rates. Provision was also made for giving, in necessitous cases, a grant in excess of the usual two-thirds of the cost of the building. Subsequently provision was also made for certain cases in which we had made grants which were not included in the “confidential return." In September, 1905, the proposed new plans were furnished for our consideration.

Having fully considered the proposals, we decided that we could not possibly agree to the conditions that building grants as hitherto provided should cease, and that the cases should be restricted to those included in the "confidential

a

Touching the restriction of all grants to cases mentioned in the “confidential return,” we pointed out that the list was never intended to be an exhaustive one. Of the applications received by us up to the present time for grants for entirely new buildings, considerably less than half are included in it. Indeed, the principal object of the return was to provide a list of the cases of unsatisfactory school accommodation throughout the country in which managers had not taken action. Moreover, very few cases in which managers have made applications for grants to improve existing schools are mentioned in the return. The limitation of grants as proposed by the Treasury would mean the penalizing of managers who had been sufficiently zealous and alert in taking steps to provide suitable school-houses, and we could not possibly acquiesce in any scheme that did not secure priority of consideration for the claims of such managers.

We further stated that in the absence of provision by legislation or otherwise for defraying the cost of erecting and maintain. ing school buildings, we were unable, in view of the unsatisfactory condition of a large number of school-houses, and of the utter insufficiency of the grant which the Treasury proposed to place at our disposal, to consent to the discontinuance of the building grants as hitherto provided. If the funds for new buildings should cease the consequences would be extremely serious, and we refused to mak: ourselves in any sense responsible for a policy involving legislation which we were unable to introduce ourselves, and which, in existing circumstances, we believed to be impracticable.

We claimed that we and we alone were the judges of the par. ticular class of cases to which the funds voted by Parliament for building grants should be applied, and that, subject to general rules to be agreed upon between us and the Treasury, we should be absolutely unfettered in the application of these funds.

Building
Grants.

We gladly accepted the proposal to give a larger proportion than two-thirds of the estimated cost of school buildings in necessitous localities.

We also drew attention to the fact that no provision had been made for increased grants in cases in which grants had been already provisionally sanctioned by us and in which the managers had had special plans, adapted to modern requirements, prepared, but had consented to postpone operations in the expectation of obtaining the benefit of the proposed improved scale of grants.

We expressed our surprise that in a matter so gravely affecting the system of National Education we had not been consulted before the proceedings were allowed to reach such an advanced stage, and we pressed for an early settlement of the questions involved.

Before proceeding to consider the plans which were prepared by the Board of Public Works we asked for and ultimately obtained—though not without some difficulty-copies of the report furnished in November, 1902, by the committee already referred to, and consequently we had the advantage of having that valuable report before us when we examined the designs of the Board of Public Works,

We regretted to find that the recommendations of the committee, with which we were practically in complete accord, did not commend themselves either to the Irish Government of the day or to the Treasury. It must be remembered that the committee, appointed by the Treasury, included only one representative of the Commissioners, the other members being the representative of the Treasury in Ireland, who Chairman, a Commissioner of the Board of Public Works, and one of His Majesty's Inspectors of Schools in Scotland who was specially nominated on account of his knowledge of the poorest districts in that country. The committee were directed to bear in mind that their recommendations must be based on principles of economy in view of the limited funds available, and hence the plans which they caused to be drawn up were prepared with a due regard to the absolutely essential requirements. It was, therefore, not without surprise and concern that we noticed that the revised plans of the Board of Public Works submitted to us, fell far short of what the committee recommended and of what we should desire to see as the standard designs in use in this country. In particular they did not provide in all types of school a class-room for each teacher-a condition which we had been insisting upon as essential in every instance in which managers had submitted special plans. In general we could not accept the plans as satisfying our requirements, and we so informed the Irish Government and the Treasury, explaining in some detail the modifications which we considered indispensable.

No further communication from the Treasury reached us until April, 1906, when we learned that Their Lordships apparently agreed to the formulation by us of a scheme for the expenditure

a of the money which they were prepared to place at our disposal ; but they withdrew their proposal to allow, in necessitous cases, a larger proportion than two-thirds of the cost of the building In a subsequent communication, however, not only did they revert to their original attitude with reference to the restriction of all grants to the cases included in the return already mentioned, but they also proposed to limit the amount for future grants to a sum of £44,000.

• We again expressed our inability to restrict our grants to cases in the “confidential return,” inasmuch as the applications which had been received at the time of its preparation were deliberately excluded from it, and as it would thus be manifestly unjust to decline to aid these cases; and we stated that in our opinion it ought to have been unnecessary to do more than point this out. To consent to any arrangement that would not enable us to deal, in the first instance, with the cases in which managers have waited for four years in the expectation that their applications would ultimately receive favourable consideration was out of the question.

We would again observe that while it is open to the Treasury to formulate for our consideration general regulations to be followed in the allocation of funds placed at our disposal for grants for school buildings, it is clearly outside their proper domain to claim to exercise any veto as to the cases that should or should not receive consideration. Our recognition of such claim would be inconsistent with the powers vested in us at the time we were constituted, whereby we were given absolute control over the funds which might be annually voted by Parliament for the purpose, amongst others, of granting aid for the erection of school-houses. Indeed Their Lordships have themselves admitted our complete immunity from interference in this regard in a letter dated the 25th August, 1880, and addressed to the Board of Public Works from which we quote :

" It is perfectly true that the Commissioners of National Education are alone responsible for deciding what schools shall be built.”

Such is the deplorable position in which the question of building grants has been left after a discussion which has been carried on for ten years. During this long period, although in England and Scotland the principles of school architecture have been constantly improved, and buildings have been erected to suit the needs of an extended curriculum,

Irish schools, which were in a much more unsatisfactory state, have been restricted to plans which suited the ideas of half a century ago. Insufficient toor space, insufficient seating accommodation, insufficient class-rooms; no provision for encouraging cleanliness and sanitation by means of the simplest form of lavatories--such are the features of the

« ForrigeFortsett »