Inspection could terrify all, even the principal,

No despot ever held more sway over his kingdom than the school principal of that era. He, in turn, feared only the dreaded Inspector, the enemy of one and all. An Inspector's job was to find something wrong. He nosed around the closets (if any) just as readily as he pried into the work of teacher and pupils alike. It was an easy task to perform. An Inspector was not there to help. He was there to find fault. He invariably found it.

Florence Mary McDowell, Roses to Rainbows, Belfast, 1972, p. 87.

Payment by results was introduced into Irish national schools in 1872. Every pupil was examined in Reading, Writing and Arithmetic, while Needlework was compulsory for girls. This system put everyone under unfair pressure.

When the time of Inspection fell upon the School, a few children were tactfully encouraged to absent themselves, even though the teachers' salaries depended upon the number of pupils present every day. Not only did they have to be present but they had to know something ... Each teacher's pay then depended on the results of the Inspector's findings as he delved into the three important aspects of learning, seeking any possible opportunity for failure.

Florence Mary McDowell, Roses to rainbows, Belfast, 1972, p. 87.


As a young child in Doagh National School, Mary met one such Inspector and remembered him ever after with a peculiarly strong dislike. He had given out his test in Arithmetic. Mary was quick and accurate. She knew she was right in her test. She folded her slate to the bosom of her frilled white pinafore; her sums done, all correct ... Suddenly the Inspector pounced. He wrenched Mary's completed slate from her enfolding arms. His saliva flew venomously, as he made a furious nought on every correct sum. 'That,' he said, 'that will teach you, young madam, not to copy.'

Copy, indeed! Mary was angry. Not only had she not copied from her neighbours at whom she had glanced, but she had no need to copy. At the time she was bitter, tearful and rebellious. In later years, she came to resent the incident even more when she learned that, because of those unjust noughts, her teacher Miss Laird would receive no money for teaching Mary Arithmetic.

For each pupil passing in this subject, Miss Laird received two shillings and eightpence.The same sum was paid for each pupil passing in Reading and again in Writing, so that for passing in the three R's, a child was worth eight shillings of her teacher's annual salary.

Florence Mary McDowell, Roses to Rainbows, Belfast, 1972, p. 88.

Many rules and regulations were mystifying. Mary found it hard at first to stand all day long, and could never understand why a teacher could not tell a story just as well seated as standing.

In her very first week, the Master had taken care to point out to her in the Inspector's Report Book a damning indictment of a former needlework teacher. The words under the Master's pointing finger remained with Mary forever. 'The children brought their needlework up to the teacher. 'SHE SAT.' The capitals had been heavily under-scored.

Florence Mary McDowell, Roses to Rainbows, Belfast, 1972, p. 85.

But the greatest plague of all for Mary was the rigid time table which could never be changed. Classes lasted thirty minutes, neither more nor less.

Even if pupils were good in one subject and weak in another, one could never rob Peter to pay Paul. Each subject did not only have its allotted hours per week but minutes per lesson, and that autocratic beast, the timetable, brought any activity to a full stop on the dot, even though children and teacher were together happily engrossed in their subject.

Florence Mary McDowell, Roses to rainbows, Belfast, 1972, p. 85.


  1. Why was Mary angry at being accused of copying in Doagh N.S.?
  2. Describe briefly how teachers about 1900 could be affected by any two of the following: inspection; payment by results; rules and regulations; the rigid timetable.


  1. Write an essay on 'Pressure on teachers in Ireland, past and present.'
  2. Write an essay on 'Pressure on students in Ireland, past and present.'
  3. Class groups are assigned short scenes from the experiences of Mary at school. Role play the scenes, one after the other.
  4. Paint or draw any scene based on the experiences of Mary at school.
  5. Compose a diary entry or a journal entry that Master John Parkinson McNally might have made in 1903.
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