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4.2 The Stanley Letter 1831

Full text of The Stanley Letter available here

“My Lord, The Irish Office, London, October 1831 His Majesty’s Government having come to the determination of empowering the Lord Lieutenant to constitute a Board for the superintendence of a system of National Education in Ireland, and Parliament having so far sanctioned the arrangement as to appropriate a sum of money in the present year as an experiment of the probable success of the proposed system, I am directed by his Excellency to acquaint your Grace, that it is his intention, with your consent, to constitute you the President of the new Board: and I have it further in command to lay before your Grace the motives of the Government in constituting this Board, the powers which it is intended to confer upon it, and the objects which it is expected that it will bear in view, and carry into effect…………………………

For the success of the undertaking much must depend upon the character of the individuals who compose the Board, and upon the security thereby afforded to the country, that while the interests of religion are not overlooked, the most scrupulous care should be taken not to interfere with the peculiar tenets of any description of Christian pupils. To attain the first object, it appears essential that the Board should be composed of men of high personal character, including individuals of exalted station in the Church; to attain the latter, that it should consist of persons professing different religious opinions. It is the intention of the Government that the Board should exercise a complete control over the various schools which may be erected under its auspices, or which, having been already established, may hereafter place themselves under its management, and submit to its regulations. Subject to these, applications for aid will be admissible from Christians of all denominations; but as one of the main objects must be to unite in one system children of different creeds, and as much must depend upon the co-operation of the resident clergy, the Board will probably look with peculiar favour upon applications proceeding either from,

1st The Protestant and Roman-catholic clergy of the Parish; or

2nd One of the clergymen, and a certain number of parishioners professing the opposite creed; or

3rd Parishioners of both denominations……………………………….

(The Commissioners)…. will require that the schools be kept open for a certain number of hours, on four or five days of the week, at the discretion of the Commissioners, for moral and literary education only; and that the remaining one or two days in the week be set apart for giving, separately; such religious education to the children as may be approved by the clergy of their respective persuasions. They will also permit and encourage the clergy to give religious instruction to the children of their respective persuasions, either before or after the ordinary school hours, on the other days of the week. They will exercise the most entire control over all books to be used in the schools, whether in the combined moral and literary, or separate religious, instruction; none to be employed in the first except under the sanction of the Board, nor in the latter but with the appointment of those members of the Board who are of the same religious persuasion with those for whose use they are intended: Although it is not designed to exclude from the list of Books for the combined instruction, such portions of sacred history, or of religious and moral teaching as may be approved of by the Board, it is to be understood that this is by no means intended to convey a perfect and sufficient religious education, or to supersede the necessity of separate religious instruction on the day set apart for the purpose.”


  1. The Stanley Letter remains today the legal basis of the National School system. It has not been replaced by any legislation specifically for National Education.
  2. The core principle of the Stanley Letter is that children of all religions should be taught together in the same school.
  3. Public funding would only be provided for schools where there was no hint of proselytism (attempting to convert children to another religion).
  4. Primary education for all children should be free.
  5. The Stanley Letter envisaged the existence of private faith schools – but, if schools wished to subject themselves to the National School system (and the funding that accompanied such a system), they would have to subject themselves to the control of the Commissioners for National Schools (the Rules for National Schools).
  6. The Stanley Letter envisaged that the State (through the Commissioners) would exercise complete control over the schools. Such control was transferred after Independence to the Minister for Education.
  7. There was to be local funding for the building of the schools, and for the maintenance of the buildings thereafter.
  8. Religious instruction would be carried out by clergy of the various religious denominations.
  9. A “Catholics First” admissions policy in a National School is not allowed under provisions of the Stanley Letter.
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