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Prometheus's Fire: Abstracts

Chapter 9: Traditions and Transformations in the Vocational School Curriculum 1930-92

John Logan

The 1927 Commission on Technical Education which laid the basis for the 1930 Act came up against obstacles from the employers, from the Church and from the Trade Unions. Some 24 thousand young adults were enrolled on courses, mostly already working. Most were short-term, part-time, and many did not complete.

The 1930 Act gave control of the new technical school system to the elected County Councils. This was to the dismay of the Churches; however the practice of allocating co-opted positions to clergy grew up as a consequence. From the 1930s to the 1960s it was the norm for the Chair to be a cleric.

There was rapid growth in school buildings and temporary centres, and in recruitment of teachers. The enrollment remained the same for the first decade, but those who enrolled got a better service, in more depth. Secondary education however expanded at a greater rate. In towns where there were secondary schools the vocational school was regarded as socially inferior. This was despite the greater employability of the products of the latter.

Despite the Minister's reassurance to the Bishops in the 1930s that the vocational system would not compete, by the 60s they were providing a complete curriculum and access to higher education. The landmark OECD 'Investment in Education' Report of 1958 was a turning point, leading to the reforms associated with Hillery and Colley, and eventually in the 1970s to the Regional Colleges., and the National Council for Educational Awards.

The traditional relationship between apprenticeship and training was cemented by the formation of An Comhairle Oiliuna (AnCo) in 1968, funded by a levy on employers. The role of the technical education system in the direct training of manual skilled workers has therefore since declined. The technological colleges' share of the total 3rd-level student body however has increased from 17% in 1971 to 40% in 1991. The technical schools at second level, despite a long run of imaginative reforms, remain however 'the least-esteemed sector'.

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