This assignment will focus on the 1967 Free Post Primary Education Scheme. “The introduction in 1967-1968 of the post-primary education system was an attempt at ensuring equality of access for all who seek education beyond the first level.” (Curry 2003, pg.88). People who went to the second level of education in Ireland before this scheme often had to pay fees. Religious orders often offered free programs to families with low incomes to help them attend second-level education. This assignment will examine the origins of the Irish free education scheme, its development, and how it influenced the Irish education system. We will also examine how it impacted our education.

In 1967, Irish education was not free for all. In 1967, Donogh O’Malley, the minister for education in Ireland, decided that Ireland’s education system needed to change. What was the reason for this system’s change? O’Malley ruled that no child should be denied an education because their parents cannot afford it. “The investment in Education report (1965), one of the most important findings, showed that second-level schools had significant inequalities between socio-economical groups. The report showed that less than one third of the students were semi-skilled or unskilled workers and almost three quarters were those of managers, professionals, and other senior salaried employees.” (Curry 2003, pg. 87).


O’Malley recognized the need to make this change. He presented the idea in 1967. He brought the idea forward because Ireland’s economy was steadily growing so that the government could support schools. O’Malley believed that education would reduce emigration, as the country’s workforce would be more educated. “Education is a key component of society; education should be focused on producing knowledge-assisted students” (Zajda 2001, pg. 22).

The scheme was made available to vocational and comprehensive schools as well as secondary schools who opted for the free program (Randles 1975, pg. 216-217). All schools were informed about the idea. They could either join or decline to participate in the scheme. Schools that refused to join the scheme became private schools. The fees were so high that only those who could afford them would be able to attend. In 1967, the majority of Catholic secondary schools joined the Free Education Scheme. However, “the majority of Protestant secondary school are not in this free scheme. The Department of Education pays a grant to the Secondary Education Committee which, according to a means test, distributes it to Protestant parents to subsidise their children attending Protestant day or board schools.” (Curry 2003, pg. 87).

How was this scheme implemented and how has it changed over the years? Before 1967, schools were able to do whatever they wanted. This is what O’Malley wanted. The scheme was created so that the Department of Education could take over the schools. The department was now responsible for the school’s success, rather than the County Vocational Education Committees or the managers of the schools. This new rule was not challenged and helped to make free education much more accessible.

In order to reach an agreement both on the Catholic and Protestant sides, meetings were held. Both churches were not happy with the proposal and many meetings took place. O’Malley wanted all parties to the Irish education system to be happy to accept the new plan. Many meetings didn’t go according to plan. O’Malley assured that the scheme would provide grants for schoolbooks and accessories to be given to students who are unable to pay. The scheme provided free transportation for students who lived more than three miles away from schools in which free education was available. (Curry 2003, pg. 88). This was done to increase secondary and third-level student attendance and to bring all relevant parties to his proposal. They had to conduct surveys in order to achieve this. These options were more obvious as school survival depended on student numbers. Therefore, it was important that the results be accepted (Randles 1975, pg. 242).

How did this scheme impact Irish education? The new scheme began slowly altering the power of schools and then handed it over the the state. Enrolment increased dramatically when the schools made public that they offered free education. In September 1967, 18000 students were enrolled in secondary schools. The same unimaginable number of students enrolled in vocational schools was also on the rolls (Randles 1975, pg. 276). The scheme also had the effect of increasing the number of qualified teachers. The scheme gave the Irish schools more control. The church’s influence on the education system was greatly diminished as a result. “The number of secondary school teachers has doubled in the period 1967-1974 because more lay teachers have been hired” (Tussing 1978). Lay teachers were also now being appointed principals, instead of religious figures. Over the next ten year, education in Ireland has changed dramatically.

The scheme also led to a significant shift in employment in Ireland over the next 20-years. People left school with different mindsets and were educated. The majority of people in the country were self-employed. Around half the population was employed in agriculture before the scheme. It was believed that people would find jobs at places where a degree is required after the scheme was implemented. Young adults and teens could now plan for their futures instead of rushing to get out of school so the children could stay at home. This scheme improved Irish education and made it more accessible for Irish citizens. Although the scheme was not perfected over the years, it made a significant impact on the lives of Irish people.

How did the 1967 free education act have an impact on the Irish education system First, everyone should have equal access to education. It worked. Everyone could now go to school or university after this scheme was implemented. It is still evident today. Unemployed people can still get a degree in any field they want. It also took away much of the power that the church held in our education system. There was a lot more employment because there were more teachers. With a degree, more people are leaving the Irish education system. This led to an increase in job opportunities.

The scheme’s first implementation was a huge success. Even the minister, who estimated that 75% of day students would be eligible for free education, was wrong. Instead, 92% of day students would benefit from it. This meant that there was little chance of the decision being reversed. Some schools were made completely dependent upon government funds (Randles 1975, pg. 276). Another impact of the Scheme was that it paved the way for everything else. The government would not have been able to control the secondary schools and bring in the Inter Cert. This would then become the Junior Cert. The same applies to the Leaving Cert. An Taoiseach John Bruton T.D., made the announcement in early 1997. The Sunday Independent published a 26-January 1997 article titled “One of the most important decisions in this century in Ireland was introducing free second level education in 1960’s.” He said that this decision opened up opportunities for higher education and employment to thousands of Irish citizens. Furthermore, he stated that without the original 60’s decision to provide free second-level education, none of these things would have been possible. This is a reminder of how important it’s to think long-term. (Coolahan 1997, pg. 2). This shows that O’Malley had a long-term goal for the scheme and it paved the way for how we teach today’s students.