Joseph Lancaster writes about his education plan for the poor in Ireland, 1805.

Esteemed Friend,

On a subject of the first importance, not only to Ireland but to Great Britain, and to every nation, I am now addressing thee ... a system which may be applied to village children and schools: a general plan, founded on experiment, which may tend to make youth more useful, without elevating them above the situation in life for which they may be designed ...

The first object is to train up young teachers on whose integrity and peaceful disposition dependence may be placed. In a country where such numbers of young men, desirous of knowledge, are to be met with, it is possible, with the low price of labour, to train and employ them at moderate expense. Whatever schools were established should be under regular, systematic inspection ...

The feelings of the Irish Nation are strong and their passions sometimes dangerous in the extreme. It is by informing the minds and reforming the morals of the people that Ireland will attain its proper dignity among virtuous nations. It is possible for Ireland, by its reformation, to prove to Europe the benefits derived from education ...

The young men selected for teachers should be of poor circumstances, from 16 to 20 years of age, whose habits are not fixed. On the subject of religion, all controverted points should be kept in the background, far out of sight.

Part of a letter from Joseph Lancaster, Free School, Borough Road, 14 January, 1805, to Rt. Hon. John Foster, Chancellor of the Exchequer in Ireland, London.


  1. Describe briefly the Lancasterian system of education.
  2. What do you think Joseph Lancaster had in mind when he wrote, 'a system ... which may tend to make youth more useful, without elevating them above the situation in life for which they may be designed'?
  3. What recent historical developments led Lancaster to believe that the passions of the Irish nation were strong and 'dangerous in the extreme'?
  4. Suggest reasons why Lancaster recommended young men of 'poor circumstances' for teaching.
  5. Suggest reasons for his recommendation on the subject of religion.
  6. Suggest reasons why Lancaster did not recommend young women as teachers in 1805.
  7. Comment on the irony of this letter, considering the eventual feminisation of the teaching profession.


  1. Write a letter back across the centuries to Joseph Lancaster, referring briefly to what happened in Irish education and to your own experience of it.
  2. Write an article for an 1805 newspaper on the necessity for training young men to be teachers.
  3. Compose an advertisement to be placed in the newspapers in 1805, inviting young men between the ages of 16 and 20 years to apply for training as teachers.
  4. Compose a letter of application from a 'young man of poor circumstances' applying for teacher training.
  5. Refer to Monitorial system.
contents index