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Royal Schools Dungannon (A Description)

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The Commissioners of Endowed Schools think that the Commissioners of Education ought to have laid out at an earlier period their rule made in 1848, with respect to the course of religious instruction. They ought to have communicated it to the schoolmasters and to the public in such a way as to prevent any misapprehension on a point so seriously affecting the utility of these schools. From a table which they subjoin it appears that of 311 pupils in the Royal Schools, mostly situated in the Province of Ulster, only nineteen were Presbyterians, only four Protestant Dissenters of other denominations, and only three Roman Catholics. Such was the almost exclusive practice of the schools, notwithstanding the fact, asserted strongly in this Report, as the result of that historical investigation, that " the Royal Schools are by their constitution essentially non-exclusive, they are not intended for pupils of only one religious persuasion, and the master has no power to compel all the pupils to receive religious instruction 'in his own tenets." should be fixed by statute; and that they should be open to all without distinction of locality or religion, the greater number being awarded by competition at public examination, but some to be reserved for poor students who deserve encouragement under regulations made by the Board. The tenure of the free places they would very properly have to be dependent on good conduct and progress. They recommend that the exhibitions should be increased in number, and that a reasonable proportion of them should be connected with the Queen's Colleges in Ireland.

The endowments of the Royal Schools consist of 21,334 acres of land, producing a rental of £5,747, having, moreover, school premises estimated at the value of about £1,000. The head masters' salaries amount to £1,600, and those of their assistants to £900. The exhibitions in Trinity College amount to £1,175, and the school scholarships to only £80. In addition, there would be a surplus income, " if collected," for repayment of advances for repairs, and for assistance to other schools, amounting to about £2,000 a-year. The charges at these splendidly endowed schools, designed for those who were not able to pay for a superior education, — to be " free" schools in the strict meaning of the term, —
are sometimes as high as ten guineas for day pupils, and £60 for boarders. In some cases the former pay as little as four guineas, and these terms vary from that to ten, while the boarders are sometimes only charged £20. The average seems to be about £40, which would be fair remuneration, without any endowment at all.

The estates of the Royal Schools are under the management of the Commissioners of Education, whose high station, names, and characters, ought to be a guarantee for all that is correct in their agents, and beneficial to the public in their discharge of public trusts. Chief among them are the Lord Primate, the Lord Chancellor, the Archbishop of Dublin, the Bishop of Meath, the Bishop of Tuam, the Bishop of Limerick, the Provost of Trinity College, and the Members for the Dublin University, with others of high position appointed by the Government. That, under this oversight, the long continuance of such an abuse as that which the Commissioners expose in connexion with the management of the Dungannon School Estate should be possible, is truly astonishing. It shows the absurdity of intrusting these matters to personages who are so fully occupied with their own duties that they cannot give them the necessary attention, and who cannot be made really responsible. I extract the following from the Report, p. 234:

"With respect to the Dungannon Royal School Estate, the Inspector brought under our notice a system, which he strongly condemned, of serving periodical notices to quit, at great expense to the charity. We made this a subject of inquiry at our public courts, held in Dublin, on the 10th and 11th of November, 1856, and found that in March, 1847, a charge of £91 was made for filling up notices to quit, for service on all the tenants on the estate, in pursuance of a practice which had continued for many years ; that there was due in November, 1846, by 142 tenants, £441 0s. 8d., the largest amount then owing by any one tenant being £11 2s. 4d., and the smallest 0s. 5d. That taking the tenants on the Dungannon Charity Estate to be, in round numbers 350, there were 208 tenants, who, at that period, were not one farthing in arrear; yet that, in March, 1847, the year of the famine, they were all served with notices to quit. The course thus indicated was systematically pursued from 1843 to 1853, when the Commissioners directed that in future no notices to quit should be served on tenants who paid their rents. This system was, in our opinion, both unjust and impolitic, since it placed the punctual and deserving on the same level with the negligent and dishonest tenant. It also directly tended to produce one of the worst evils which, as the Inspector has justly remarked, attends the actual accumulation of arrears, namely, that the tenant who knows that he may at any time be evicted, suffers his houses and farm to go to ruin. In addition to this objectionable system, the charge made by the Commissioners' Solicitor for filling up the notices was altogether exorbitant. We, therefore, concur with the Inspector, in his condemnation of these proceedings, and agree with him in thinking, that notices to quit should only have been served on defaulters, and that the proper course was to have one form settled by the solicitor, and the other printed, and filled up in the agent's offices."

The Commissioners were not quite satisfied with the management of Erasmus Smith's Schools, and it would seem from their Report, that the Governors had some reasons, in addition to their chartered privilege, for the peremptory refusal to admit the inspection of a Royal Commission. There are four Grammar Schools and 140 English Schools in connexion with the Governors. The average attendance of pupils in all the Grammar Schools for the year of inspection, 1855-56, was 116, the number of pupils on the roll being 160. Of these, 128 were members of the United Church; twenty-three Roman Catholics ; and one Presbyterian. In all the English Schools, the number on the rolls was 7,010; the average attendance being only 4,241. Of those on the rolls, 4,293 were members of the Established Church; 875 Roman Catholics; and 1,420 Presbyterians. The net annual income of Erasmus Smith's Fund, applicable to schools, was £7,462. The Inspector of Estates estimated the rental or letting value of Erasmus Smith's estates at £9,516. There is, besides, an annual income of £72 from the funds; £600 a-year of this property is given in grants to Trinity College, Dublin, and £100 a-year to Christ's Hospital, London. Mr. Crawford, one of the Assistant Commissioners, states, that the masters of the Grammar Schools are left, almost, perfectly uncontrolled by the Governors of this charity. The schools are never inspected, the terms for pupils are undefined, the course of education is not prescribed, and there is nothing to distinguish these schools from other private schools, except that the receipt of a considerable salary, and the use of large and commodious houses and grounds, give to the masters such advantages over private teachers as should put down all competition. Mr. Crawford thinks, " that these advantages enable the masters to pay less attention to the reasonable desires and wishes of the pupils, in respect to vacations and similar arrangements in relation to the school, than private teachers could dare to do.

Extracted from A Hand-book of the Education Question.: Education in Ireland; Its History by James Godkin 1862.