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The Closure of Greendale Community School, Kilbarrack: or education and socialism. February 17, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, Education, Uncategorized.
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Some of you might have caught the television reports last Friday evening concerning the Reunion at Greendale Community School in Kilbarrack. The school is closing after numbers have dropped precipitously over the past decade or so. Opened in 1975 Greendale has always managed to leverage – well, something, some quality so that it has truly been a centre of excellence particularly in terms of writing. Take a Guardian report about Silvio Burlusconi’s wife Veronica Lario in her public letter to him a couple of weeks back regarding ‘thoughtless quips’ he made about other women. As the Guardian put it:

Ms Lario said her husband’s comments could not be dismissed as jokey remarks. Hinting at how deeply they had hurt her, she said she felt like a woman in one of the novels of the Irish writer, Catherine Dunne. “I ask if, like the Catherine Dunne character, I have to regard myself as ‘half of nothing’,” she wrote.

Catherine Dunne was of course a teacher in Greendale.spring4.jpg

Well, as it happened I was there myself as a former pupil between 1978 and 1983. So when registering in the gym it was a gloomy pleasure to find myself in a long line of those who had attended between 1975 when the school opened and 1980 (registration was in blocs of years, 75-80, 81 – 85, etc, etc). There was also a certain surreal quality to find oneself wandering around with a garish green sticker with 1978 printed on it stuck to my lapel seeking out others of my ilk. And find them I did. The faces were familiar, but different…most of them. Anyhow, it was an interesting evening and for once more about the pupils than the school or the staff.

What was striking though was that uniformly those I met had nothing but good words about the school. And even more striking was that many of those words centred on the concept that the social mix within the school which drew students from across the North side and across social classes led to a situation where as one person put it to me ‘we could go out and stand toe to toe with anyone from anywhere and have no sense of being in some way lesser’. This I’d note came unprompted and from people who had no idea of my own political beliefs. And sure, any school will generate a degree of pride of place and so on. But… remembering Kilbarrack and Dublin in the 1970s and early 1980s during such crushingly impoverished times…perhaps such a strongly egalitarian approach at the core of the school ethos was a necessary support for those entering into a fairly grim world. A story another friend recalled which encapsulates a sense of the times was of a teacher chided by a substitute teacher for implying pupils should go to college with the words ‘for God’s sake don’t give them any false hope’. Thankfully the general approach tended towards pushing people to be ambitious in their lives whether in terms of skills, third-level education or whatever.

I had the interesting experience of spending one year in fee paying school located in Dublin after finishing my Leaving Cert in Greendale. And although I would praise some aspects of it, particularly the enlightened attitude of the religious there who being Jesuits tended towards a radical liberation theology influenced stance (videos of the social struggles in El Salvador and other parts of Central and South America were an interesting and truly educative feature of religious classes) quite at odds with the broadly middle class and upper middle class attitude of the students and parents, I have no sense of it really being ‘my school’. Moreover despite excellent facilities and good teachers it lacked the spark of Greendale, that sense that it was truly pushing barriers, both intellectual, social and otherwise.

On this subject, it’s a fundamental cornerstone of my own socialism that education is a key part of the mix in creating a society which strives towards social justice and a sense of egalitarianism. To me it seems that state education up to and including second level is a necessity. I’m strongly aware that there is a tension between libertarianism and statism in this area, and it’s a tension I share myself. It seems illiberal to force parents to send children to state schools yet not to do so leads to a pooling of social groups that even our new social mobility is not going to alter. Indeed our new much vaunted wealth is leading to a renewed emphasis on private second level education as ‘free’ third level frees up resources for the middle classes keen (and genuinely so) to ‘ensure the best’ for their children. Yet, there are arguments for a comprehensive system going well beyond curriculum to promote social solidarity. Lest this sound like a completely authoritarian approach I’d suggest that there are models available that would permit a degree of flexibility in terms of allowing actually greater autonomy for parents and children in organising aspects of their education (and here I’m thinking of home schooling, religious tuition, etc) around a core of the comprehensive curriculum.

I was reading in Prospect about Tony Crosland, author of the Future of Socialism and British Labour Party theorist who had struggled to implement comprehensive education. As Denis MacShane writes:

Crosland’s [other] sustained argument was on secondary education, which he saw then, as it is now, as the Achilles heel of building a reformist, classless, creative Britain. In his book, he called for 75 per cent of all places in private schools to be given to a range of pupils from all backgrounds. Comprehensive schools should be based on streaming by ability. Crosland would turn theory into practice when he became education secretary in 1965. His famous circular 10/65, which “requested” local education authorities to move toward comprehensive education, is today widely recognised as a disaster. His junior minister, the much tougher, more experienced Reg Prentice, begged Crosland to make the verb “required,” not “requested”—an order, not a plea. Crosland refused. As a result, instead of a major reorganisation of education on a par with the creation of the NHS after 1945, the move to comprehensive schooling was a long drawn-out agony, with a leakage of richer families to private schools.

Sounds familiar? What’s remarkable is not that Crosland failed or as MacShane puts it: “Today we have an apartheid secondary education system as a result of Crosland’s botched reform. The metropolitan elites reject state secondary education for their own children.” but that he tried at all, and saw it as a crucial component of his socialism.

Crosland is regarded in some respects as being on the right of Labour, somewhat akin to Tony Blair a generation or so later. And yet here he was arguing for comprehensive state based education, although note that he wasn’t abolishing private schooling – simply altering it out of all recognition. But when a 1950s Labour reformist offers up a vision of education in society which is more radical than anything we hear today in our society from our left parties (consider this from the Labour Party) then I think it’s time to think about the issue a bit more deeply.

Still, that’s what reunions do. Throw up the difficult questions.

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Comments»

1. Dan Sullivan - February 17, 2007

I agree that education can be the silver bullet to really open up opportunity for all. My own education had the peculiar influence of growing up in a Irish town that had just the two post primary schools, but curiously both were co-ed and neither were religious.

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2. WorldbyStorm - February 18, 2007

An interesting situation. I think co-ed has, broadly speaking, greater benefits than negatives. I’d certainly argue that also in the context of the second school I went to which was single sex. Discipline etc was significantly worse than at Greendale. Oddly enough Greendale had a Jesuit chaplain so there was some continuity between there and the next place I went to.

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3. Pidge - February 18, 2007

There was a chap from Greendale at EYP in Dublin last year.

He was annoying. I’ve decided to judge the entire school on that basis. WBS, consider yourself warned.

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4. smiffy - February 18, 2007

Isn’t everyone at the EYP pretty annoying, though? Why single out the guy from Greendale, other than to flaunt your repugnant racialism!!! :x

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5. Pidge - February 18, 2007

Because I’m a racialist.

Duh!

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6. Eagle - February 20, 2007

On this subject, it’s a fundamental cornerstone of my own socialism that education is a key part of the mix in creating a society which strives towards social justice and a sense of egalitarianism. To me it seems that state education up to and including second level is a necessity.

Despite my conservativism I go along with some of this. I think it’s good that children from different social backgrounds be educated together. The social mixing of school is important – and one reason I don’t accept the argument of the home schoolers (fast-growing even here in Ireland).

My problem with state education is that it’s state-run. State funded is easier for me to accept, but a monopolistic state system does not necessarily foster good management or provide the system that we need. The state run system is basically a battle for spoils between the excessively powerful unions and those in government/civil service who use the schools as another part of patronage system. I also object to the centralization that the state imposes – centralized pay deals, centralized standards, centralized curricula, etc.

When I talk about the system we need consider how hard it would be to make radical changes. Change in a state run system is nearly impossible. You can tinker around the edges, but there’s little hope of the Dept. of Education deciding to liquidate itself so that we can have 30 or so smaller county-wide (assuming more than one for Dublin) departments. The teachers and civil service would balk at that plan and no government could hope to implement it thanks to the power that the unions have over education.

I could go on all day on this, but I’d better stop now.

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7. WorldbyStorm - February 20, 2007

I’m heartened, but unsurprised, that we are in agreement on the issue of social mixing. From there on out of course it get’s a bit trickier. But I can see ways in which a real pluralism can be achieved without losing essential core aspects.

I’d also doubt if there is any societal pressure to shift away from the current system. However, I’d argue that we’re getting to some degree the worst of all possible worlds. The belief seems afoot that because there is a sort of ‘plurality’ on the delivery side i.e. with private and religious schools as well as state, and a standardisation on the inputs side i.e. curriculum, testing and so forth that there is little more to be done other than to deal with ‘access’ alone.

I’d profoundly disagree with that belief. I’d prefer a sort of model where the state ran a core aspect of the curriculum etc and then areas around that were determined by stakeholders involved. I’d argue it’s essential in a contemporary society that some sort of core is adhered to, but that flexibility is also paramount.

I’d certainly agree that the vested interests have often worked at odds with the interests both of themselves (ie. ASTI during it’s long sojourn outside the embrace of the other unions) and of students.

Anyhow, this is one that will run and run.

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8. Lorenzo - February 22, 2007

Hail fellow northsider. Greendale is primarily a victim of changing demographics – smaller household size and poor planning in the past (large areas of low density housing). Why Greendale was selected instead of other, traditional single sex schools in the area is a good question.

A curious feature of education in north east Dublin is that primary schools are opening as secondary schools, such as Greendale, close.
A big new primary school is scheduled to open next year at ‘Belmayne’ (part of the huge North Fringe development), with another to follow a couple of years after. An even more curious feature (and one close to my heart) is that many Catholic Church run schools in the area have spare capacity, while the non or multi-denominations ones are packed to the rafters with large waiting lists. Yet the Church has applied to run the new Belmayne school.. oh happy day.

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9. WorldbyStorm - February 22, 2007

I’m beginning to wonder how many people who don’t come from the Northside blog in Dublin. That’s an interesting point you make there about spare capacity. Why is that?

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10. Lorenzo - February 23, 2007

The spare capacity has resulted from the same demographic changes as I mentioned before – smaller families AND a shift away from some church controlled primary schools, particularly single sex ones. There are literally empty classrooms being used for storage in schools in Baldoyle while the North Bay educate together (ET) school has waiting list that starts at birth.

There will be 15,000 new homes in the North Fringe area, hence the new schools being built.. just not necessarily the type of schools that people want. The process by which the ‘sponsor’ (i.e. the church, or gaelscoilleanna or ET) of the new schools is chosen appears to be completely opaque.

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11. L.J - September 24, 2007

greendale was kick ass.. so iv bin told.. and de della iz a kip!!! xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

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12. Patrick H - May 11, 2009

I am an American who attended Greendale in 1979 while my father taught at Trinity…wonderful experience! Patrick H (Patrickinsc@yahoo.com)

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13. ‘The Top 400 Secondary Schools in Ireland’… « The Cedar Lounge Revolution - March 11, 2010

[...] the by, I’ve mentioned it before, but I’m unusual in the respect that I have an insight into both fee-charging and non [...]

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