The introduction of the Irish National System was an attempt to reduce the number of unnecessary schools and provide them where they were most needed.
It also certified the role of the state in the provision, not just the subsidising of education. However, the national system still called for a considerable amount of local initiative and support.
The local community was expected to contribute at least one-third of the capital costs of establishing and maintaining its school, to offset part of the cost of the teacher's salary by the payment of school fees, and to form a school committee to manage the affairs of the school.
To ensure that National Schools had the greatest chance of survival, they were established in regional areas where no denominational schools already existed, and then only if local residents could guarantee an average attendance of at least 30 pupils. It was not the initial intention to add to the duplication of schools by having national schools in places also served by other denominational schools.
Growth in the public school system
In 1848 the Board of National Education opened its first school; and by 1851 the Board had 37 schools in operation that were attended by over 2,000 pupils. However, in the mid-1850s the growth of the government school system had slowed. Some of the earlier schools stayed open for very short periods of time due to fluctuations in local populations, whilst others were forced to close due to the hostility of individual clergy who saw the national schools as 'godless'.
Considerable gains occurred from 1858 onward when the Board of National Education allowed denominational and private schools to become national schools under its control, without demanding that the school building become the property of the Board. This arrangement permitted the owner or local residents to use the school building after school hours for whatever purpose desired, a freedom denied for vested national school buildings. Alternatively private houses or rented premises could become school buildings on a long-term basis. The response to the non-vested scheme was immediate and within two years the number of schools under the Board doubled.
By 1866, the last year of the National Board, half of its 260 schools were of the non-vested type. Fewer than 20 of all the Board's schools were located in the Sydney area, with the remainder predominantly one-teacher schools scattered throughout regional areas. Whilst city schools made up less than 10 per cent of the total number of schools, their large enrolments meant they accounted for nearly 30 per cent of total attendance.