1. Thirteen Loreto Convent Schools represented in 1899 by Mr. James J. Macken.

2. Mrs M. Byers gives evidence.

3. Miss Henrietta White of Alexandra College gives evidence.

4. Objections to the poaching of clever students.

5. Further objections to the poaching of clever students.

Document 1
Thirteen Loreto Convent Schools represented
in 1899 by Mr. James J. Macken

[Minutes of Evidence from the Intermediate Education (Ireland) Commission, Feb. 10, 1899.
Mr James J. Macken, B.A., Examiner in English to the Intermediate Education Board examined. Representing thirteen Loreto Convent Schools, including Loreto Abbey, Rathfarnham.]

About the year 1869 they established for their schools a system of examinations - written examinations - held each term; that is, on the work done during the term; and, in addition to that, there was always an oral examination in the whole of the work of the term, testing the pupils' progress in recitation, reading, dictation, in foreign languages, and in English; also in their music, and what other witnesses have called the ornamental subjects. Marks were given for that, and on that basis the places of the pupils in the classes were assigned. That continued from l869 to about 1880. Simultaneously with the beginning of your system they adopted a slight modification in that, to the extent of confining the house examination to a written examination, and marks were given for that, and, in addition, there was an oral examination in such parts as could not be tested fairly in the written examination ...

Advantages of the Intermediate System
It has encouraged the pupils and furnished a definite programme for the year's work and simplified in some cases the classification of the pupils. Another of the advantages is the absolute impartiality of the system as administered by you, always providing, of course, that it is a system of written examination solely.

Disadvantages of the working of the Intermediate System
They would say, in so far as the rewards of the teachers and the pupils alike depend upon marks obtained in some common examination in a course selected by the Board, and that Board, taking no acount of any feature of school life or training (which cannot be tested by written examination), the result must be that the freedom of the school, or of the teacher is almost impossible - that the teacher tends to become a mere machine for imparting knowledge and the school itself ceases, to a similar extent, to be a centre of real intellectual training. They would also say that in girls' schools the Intermediate system offers no inducements to devote attention to many necessary features of the education of girls and in order to secure the highest success of the examinations there must be a certain amount of neglect of those features; that it narrows down the education of the scholar, and to that extent ... it impairs the full efficiency of a really good school.

I think, with regard to Catholic schools in general, none of them have ever thought the Intermediate system the best possible, but they have adopted it - or submitted to it rather - because there was no better available ...

I wish to say a word as to the views of the superiors and the teachers of the Institute on the question already raised before the Commission, why do not Catholic girls avail themselves so freely as the boys of the Intermediate System?

The reason is that a large number of parents of girls consider that the Intermediate system is not suitable for girls, and that if they entered into the competition they would not be examined in subjects and accomplishments which they regard as more fitted to form part of the education of girls. Others refused to allow their girls to go in for the examination on the ground that the work is too exhausting, and that the strain upon them would be too severe. There is another suggestion, that a large number of boys are engaged in training for professional and other walks of life in which the passing of examination will be a means to an end, and that thus they are encouraged to go in for the examinations of the Intermediate Board. There is also another matter which has been found to influence a number of parents, and that is the fear that the girls might not do well at the examinations, and they shrink from having them branded as failures by not getting through them.

Question of an additional examination for girls
That would raise the question of separate courses for girls. They considered that question, and the view they hold is that they would prefer the present method, giving a large amount of liberty to the heads of schools to select the subjects which they would consider best for the particular girl in question, and then presenting her in those subjects. The additional programme would give rise to considerable difficulties. A larger staff would be required, because you would have different sets of pass and honour students in subjects of the common programme, and in addition to that you would have a separate set of pupils, who would be competing in the other courses.


  1. This witness was speaking on behalf of which Institute of nuns? What was the system followed in their schools before the Intermediate Act came into operation?
  2. Can you identify any major differences between this system and that followed under the Intermediate system?
  3. Research the main advantages and disadvantages of the Intermediate examination system. Do you think the advantages outweighed the disadvantages or vice versa?
  4. Identify the main reasons why many convent schools did not enter for the Intermediate examinations as put forward by this witness. Which do you think was the most important? Explain your answer.
  5. Analyse the views of this religious institute of nuns on a separate examination for girls. Why was it important to find out their views?
  6. Class to debate the motion: 'That the Intermediate examination system was a very unfair examination for girls'

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Document 2

Mrs M. Byers gives evidence

[Minutes of Evidence, Intermediate Education (Ireland) Commission. Feburary 1st,1899.
Mrs M. Byers, Principal, Victoria College, Belfast, examined.]

I believe that the good effected by the Intermediate system far preponderates over the evil ... I have been engaged in the work of education in Belfast since the summer of 1859, and was consequently twenty years conversant with the work before the introduction of the Intermediate examinations. The first eleven of these well-remembered uphill years preceded the opening of the University examinations to women. I worked for the extension of these examinations and of the Intermediate examinations to girls' schools, and hailed them with satisfaction as affording us some standard and aim, and as supporting our efforts to place before parents a true ideal of education for girls. These examinations have simply revolutionised girls' education in Ireland. The benefits can only be properly estimated by those who remember, as I do, the condition of girls' schools generally some thirty or forty years ago. At that time there were no school buildings such as boys enjoyed in either large or small towns, no free studentships and no permanent scholarships either for literary or technical training; and for the daughters of the gentry or of the mercantile or professional classes, beaten in life, there was no educational help of any kind, such as was provided for their more fortunate brothers.

The time spent at even the best schools was usually so very short, that no sensible intellectual improvement could be gained. The school programme was almost limited to such subjects as could be displayed in the drawingroom, and even these were not taught with the same thoroughness as at present. Solid learning used to strengthen the minds of boys was almost entirely excluded. Sound elementary training was not required by parents, knowledge of arithmetic and English grammar was usually meagre in ladies' schools, and the most superficial examinations gave sufficient proof of its deficiency. Heads of schools who valued such branches obtained masters for two or three hours a week to teach them, and thus admitted the inability of women to undertake the subjects themselves. Resident English governesses were advertised in order to recommend schools, though, owing to the same state of things in England, these ladies were usually inferior to our home governesses in every educational qualification except perhaps in the matter of accent. There was a strong prejudice against large schools for girls, they were thought to be injurious to both morals and manners.


  1. Who gave this evidence and what position did she hold?
  2. What does this document tell us about the state of girls' second level education in Belfast prior to 1878? How does this compare with the rest of Ireland?
  3. Why do you think the time spent by girls at school was so short in this early period?
  4. What does Mrs Byers mean when she says that the subjects taught were mostly those that could be displayed in the drawingroom?
  5. Why, according to the author, did girls' parents not place any value on a sound elementary training?
  6. Why were masters employed in girls' schools?
  7. Why did schools have to advertise for resident English governesses?
  8. Why, according to this document, was there a strong prejudice against large schools for girls?
  9. How do we know from this document that Mrs Byers believed that boys had better educational opportunities than girls in the pre-1878 period?
  10. Examine Mrs Byers claim that both the Intermediate and University examinations revolutionised girls' education in Ireland.
  11. Research the life and educational work of Mrs Byers.

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Document 3

Miss Henrietta White of Alexandra College gives evidence

[Evidence of Miss H.M. White, Lady Principal, Alexandra College, Dublin, before the Intermediate Education (Ireland) Commission, January, 1899.
She refers to the advantages and disadvantages of the Intermediate system of examinations.]

I think it has had great advantages; I think it has stimulated the activity of schools, and given endowments which were very much needed, and what is highly important, it has introduced a better programme into the girls' schools. I think many of the subjects which are now taught and well taught in girls' schools, at the time the Intermediate Act was passed, were not taught at all, and there was no means of testing those subjects ...

I think the amount of memory work required was quite terrible, and it was due in a great measure to the character of the papers ... I have brought down illustrations of the kind of questions to which I object. Questions like these were asked in English: 'How old was Coleridge when the Ancient Mariner was published?' That seems a perfectly harmless question, but it was not harmless in its effects on the teaching of the schools, because such questions mould the future teaching - what that meant in future was every child would have to know the date at which every work was produced ... I was questioning one of our history teachers, a woman of great ability, and she said for the first two terms she could get the girls fairly to follow her, and she taught them in defiance of the system, but when it came to the last two terms the girls armed themselves with Curtis' Outlines and said 'Pray do not teach those things, because we won't be asked them' ...

If the girl was taking only history, or only English, it does not matter, but when you think that she has to be responsible for all the irregularities in Latin and French grammar, and for mathematics also, besides the 300 cookery receipts in domestic economy, it comes to be something terrible the amount of mere memory work. We will take the Senior Grade of 1894 ...

In Irish history and English history ... 'Give the dates of the following battles.' I don't know what the Board may think as to the importance of Ballinamuck, but we find it in the first battle names here. What does that mean but that children will just get Curtis' Outlines and look at the dates they think most important and learn them ...

Dr Katherine Maguire who, from a health point of view, was very much interested in this point, read a paper for the School-mistresses' Association, and in order to prepare this paper she sent around to several of the girls' schools in Ireland and obtained from them a time-table of the number of hours requisite for preparation ... One time-table I am sure will interest the Board, because there is no time whatever given for recreation. It was given by one of the pupils of a boarding school ...

'A day at school:
Rise at 7.15; bedmaking to 7.45; prayers, 7.55; breakfast; 8; leave for school, 8.45; preparations or extras, that is music, etc., 8.50 to 9.30; lessons, 9.45 to 11; lunch, 11 to 11.15; lessons, 11.15 to 1.45; dinner, 2; back to school for extras, music, 3 to 5; tea, 5.30; preparation, 6.30 to 8.30; supper and prayers, 8.30 to 9; bed.'

... Dr Maguire found that in these schools the average working hours were from 8 to 9; in four schools it was 9.75 to 10.75 hours; in few schools did they fall below 8 hours, so that these unfortunate girls must have had a severe strain upon them ...

I think it tended to change the teachers into grinders, and I draw a very great distinction between a teacher and a grinder - a grinder is one who by a particular time has to get a certain amount of facts into a pupil's head, and a teacher has to develop the pupil's faculties.


  1. Who gave this evidence and what position did she hold in Irish education?
  2. What, according to this document, were the main advantages of the Intermediate system?
  3. What were its chief defects as described by this witness?
  4. Compare and contrast this evidence with that given by Mrs Byers of Belfast.
  5. Give as many reasons as you can why these two educationalists held such different views on the Intermediate examination system.
  6. Give your views on the amount of memory work required for these examinations.
  7. Make a list of the similarities and differences between schooldays at the turn of the last century and those of your own school.
  8. Examine the disturbing figures produced by Dr Katherine Maguire on school timetables and compare these with evidence from other schools.
  9. Compare the lack of recreation in many girls' schools in the late 1890s with that of the pre-Intermediate period. Which system would you prefer and why?
  10. Research the life and educational achievements of Miss H.M. White.
  11. What, according to this witness, was the major difference between a teacher and a grinder? Do you agree? Explain your answer.

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Document 4

Objections to the poaching of clever students

[Written submission by Miss H.M. White, Lady Principal, Alexandra College, Dublin to the Intermediate Eduation (Ireland) Commission, 1899 on poaching clever students.]

We, the undersigned members of the Schoolmistresses' Associations, desire to draw attention to, and express our disapproval of, a practice which we have reason to believe is becoming prevalent in this country, and which is both injurious to Education and dishonouring to the Teaching Profession.

We allude to the practice of Heads of Schools and Colleges offering to parents free education, or education at very reduced terms, for their children if they have ability to win prizes and high Result Fees under the Intermediate System, and will enter for the Examinations.

It is manifest that this is injurious to the best interests of Education, as parents will be increasingly unwilling to pay adequately for their children's education, if in some cases they can obtain it for little or nothing. The benefit of endowment, which it is the object of the Intermediate System to confer, will thus be nullified.

Again, it is dishonouring to the profession, as it is a direct injury to schools where such pupils have previously been educated, and which are thus unfairly deprived of some of their best pupils.
We desire to protest strongly against this evil, and to express our determination both to avoid it in practice ourselves, and to use our influence in every way to discourage it. We appeal to all Heads of Schools to do the same, and by a unanimous agreement among teachers to maintain the status and benefits of our profession, and to put an end to a practice disastrous to the best interests both of schools and pupils.

Signed by the Heads of 40 Protestant girls' schools out of a total membership of 80 schools.


  1. Who was responsible for this memorial and why was it sent to the Intermediate
    Education (Ireland) Commission?
  2. What was the practice that the memorialists objected to?
  3. Analyse the main grievances of the memorialists. Do you think they were valid?
  4. Identify the main area particularly associated with this practice? Explain why you think this was so.
  5. Why were convent schools not represented in this memorial?
  6. Miss McKillip, Ladies' School, Derry, did not sign this memorial, although she was Derry representative for the Schoolmistresses' Association. Can you think of any reason why might not wish to do so?
  7. Class to debate the topic, putting arguments for and against this practice.

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Document 5

Further objections to the poaching of clever students

[Evidence of Mr R.H. Ashmore, B.A., Headmaster of Intermediate School, Lisburn and of
Mrs Mary Ashmore, B.A., Headmistress of Intermediate School, Lisburn
before the Intermediate Education (Ireland) Commission, 1899.]

We propose to point out merely a gross abuse that has arisen out of the system in the hope that steps may be taken to expose it and guard against it in the future. We refer to the buying up of clever students by school managers. The Results Fees paid by the Board are so high and the éclat attached to an exhibition-winning school so great, that it is worth while for a not very scrupulous manager literally to buy up prospective exhibitioners attending other schools. The bribe given is usually either free education, free board and education, or cash. In the case of a clever girl who has distinguished herself, say in the Preparatory Grade, it is usual for her to 'receive overtures' from a number of lady managers who bid against each other, the highest bidder securing the student for her school.


  1. What was the gross abuse referred to by the Ashmores in their evidence?
  2. Where do they lay the blame for this abuse?
  3. Can you think of any way in which this practice could have been avoided?
  4. What do you think of the idea of schools buying up clever students? Was it injurious to education? Explain your answer.
  5. Why did these school managers want girls who had done well in Preparatory Grade?

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