Taoiseach Enda Kenny and author Brian Fleming.

Have we cherished the children equally?

The 1916 Proclamation was quite explicit as to its vision for Ireland; it guaranteed “equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens”. The Proclamation, the principles of which have shaped the development of the Irish Nation, went on to promise “to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and of all its parts, cherishing all of the children of the nation equally”.

In this year, the centenary year of 1916, Brian Fleming, educator and author, is publishing a thought provoking book entitled 'Irish Education - Cherishing the Children Equally', which delves into the history of the Irish Education System and asks, as well as answers, the question “Have we cherished children equally?”

Fleming has been prominent in education circles for decades, becoming principal of a school in the disadvantaged Dublin suburb of North Clondalkin in the early 1980s. Throughout his tenure, until he retired in 2009, he and his colleagues saw firsthand the additional challenges facing young people in disadvantaged areas and their struggles to reach their full potential with an educational system that was inadequate to their needs.

Fleming states: “At national level, since 1922, many reports were issued in which the problem of educational disadvantage and the need for a comprehensive policy response were highlighted. Various Ministers for Education came and went, introducing policy initiatives and various schemes to address the issues. Improvements resulted, but it is clear that to this day we still operate a two-tier education system.”

Through the book, Fleming asks why, despite the ideal of equality of opportunity being regularly reiterated by Irish governments and leaders since 1922, has the objective not been achieved, and explores the influence this lack of achievement has had on generations of young people.

The book, which is a must for educators, policy makers and influencers, as well as anyone with a keen interest in education, traces the journey of this promise of equality in the first 85 years of the Irish State. The book also takes into account the State’s inherited education system during the period of British rule in the 19th century and early part of the 20th century, which the book finds had long-lasting consequences for policy development in the newly independent Irish State.

In summary, the book finds that promises made in 1916, and reaffirmed in 1922 and by successive governments since then, were rhetoric and have not been matched by reality. Fleming states “Weaknesses in the policy formation process itself have been identified, most particularly a reluctance on the part of successive administrations to prioritise the needs and rights of children and young people over those of vested interests, and an unwillingness to introduce rigorous and transparent procedures for the assessment of system performance.”

Throughout the period since independence, Fleming’s book suggests that this lack of delivery is of course reflective of a lack of political will and leadership on the issue of equality of educational opportunity, but also reflects a lack of concern on the part of the people of Ireland generally for the often unequal inadequate education system, that does not cherish all of our children equally.

“Irish Education - Cherishing the Children Equally” by Brian Fleming is available from www.educationhistory.ie.

Brian Fleming was principal of Collinstown Park Community College from 1984 to 2009. His father, Brian, was a past principal of Kilmessan NS.

'Irish Education - Cherishing the Children Equally' is his third book. 'The Vatican Pimpernel: the wartime exploits of Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty', the iconic Irishman who saved 6,500 people during Nazi occupied Rome, was published by Collins Press in 2008 and Skyhorse Publishing in the US in 2012. 'County Dublin VEC, 1930–2013' was commissioned and published by the Dublin and Dún Laoghaire ETB in 2014.