Lurgan Model School is Opened

Lurgan Model School

At the apex of the National School system, as proposed in 1831, were the Model Schools. The idea was that each county would have a Model School, which would serve not only as an example to other National Schools in the area, but also as Teacher Training establishments. Much of the credit for the sighting of the school in Lurgan must go to the Brownlow family. They had for years taken a keen interest in the provision of schools in the town. The Erasmus Smith School had been helped and encouraged by William Brownlow, while Lady Lurgan had been responsible for the establishment of an Infant School, and there is evidence that Lord Lurgan played a part in bringing the Model School to the town. Speaking at the school's prize giving in 1879, Mr. J. Hancock said, "The splendid building in which we are assembled owes its existence to the efforts of his Lordship, who has, for 16 years, been a steady friend of the school." This would appear to be public recognition of the part played by the Brownlows in the establishment of the school.

The site chosen for the new school was Brownlow Terrace, overlooking the railway line. Construction was completed in 1863, at a cost of 8,000. The premises provided accommodation for 600 pupils, organised in three departments - Boys, Girls and Infants. Each department had three qualified teachers, not counting trainees and monitors. In addition there were visiting teachers for specialist subjects, such as Music.

Mr. James Patten, Head Inspector for the National Education Commissioners gave notice as follows:

Will be opened for the reception of Pupils

THIS INSITUTION WILL EMBRACE Departments for Boys, Girls, and Infants, each of which will be under the superintendence of a competent Teacher, aided by efficient Assistants.

The course of instruction in the BOY'S SCHOOL will include all the branches of a sound Mercantile and Preparatory Scientific Education. While all the branches appropriate to FEMALE EDUCATION will receive due attention, especial care will be taken to make the Girls proficient in the several kinds of Needle work.

Model School todayThe chief object in the INFANTS' Department will to train the mind to habits of attention and cheerful obedience, and thus to prepare the way for the instruction given in the higher Departments. The attendance at the Infant School will be restricted to children under the age of seven years.

Arrangements will be made to affording Instruction to all the Pupils in vocal Music and Elementary Drawing. Lectures on Natural Philosophy, illustrated by Charts and Apparatus, will be delivered by Dr. Clarke, Lecturer on Physical Science to the Commissioners; or, by the Teachers under his superintendence.

The Rates of payment will be the same as the Commissioners have adopted in the other Model Schools established by them, viz. : - 5s., 2s 6d. And 1s. per Quarter, regulated in accordance with the circumstances of the Parents. In all cases the payment must be made in advance; no deduction will be made on the account of absent time.

The gates of the Institution will be opened each day at Nine o'Clock am., the business will commence at Half-past Nine, and will terminate at Three o'Clock. On Saturdays the schools will close at One o'Clock. A sufficient portion of the School hours will be set apart daily for SEPARATE RELIGIOUS INSTRUCTION, and every facility will be afforded to the Clergy of the different denominations for superintending and directing the Religious Education of the Children of the several flocks.

The Teachers or Inspectors will be in attendance at the Schools on and after Monday, the 2nd of February, 1863, for the purpose of receiving and registering applications for admission from Parents and Guardians. These will be attended to strictly in the order in which they are received.

(By desire of the Commissioners of national education,)

Head Inspector.

District Inspector

Model School, Lurgan.
January, 1863

The first staff list available is that for 1865-6. At that time the Headmaster was Mr. A. Greer (he was the first headmaster), assisted in the boys' department by Messrs. Mooney and Porter. In the Girls' department the staff consisted of Eliza Campbell, assisted by Sophia Small and Anna Coyle, while the Infant Department had Martha Kennedy, Mrs. Mooney and Martha Jane Brown. Visiting teachers were George Washington (Music), Roland Smeethe (Drawing) and Dr. Clarke (Physical Science). Two of these men must have been real itinerants, since Messrs. Washington and Clarke were both visiting teachers at the Newtownards Model School at the same time.

The local press reported it thus:


On Monday last, a new model National School was opened for the reception of pupils at Lurgan. The school occupies a site near the railway station, and is a conspicuous object to travellers by the Ulster Railway. The main front faces the west and has a fine airy look out across the country. The building is of brick, with stone facings, and is of that style of brick architecture which of late years has come much into vogue. It was erected by designs prepared by Mr Owen, architect to the Board of works in Dublin. It was commenced in the summer of 1861, and finished towards the later end of last year, at a cost of 6,000. The boys' school is about 50 feet by 30 feet, and will accommodate 200 pupils; the girls' school is about 40 feet by 30 feet, having accommodation for 150 pupils; and the infants' school is about 30 feet by 25 feet, with accommodation for 100 pupils. The height of each room is about equal to its breadth, and they are all airy, well lighted, and have a most cheerful appearance. The walls are profusely hung with all kinds of maps, diagrams, and illustrations of almost every conceivable object in natural history, geology, geography, astronomy, drawing mechanics and engineering, botany, &c. In each room there are, besides the usual appliances of desks, slates, &c., a pair of globes and a harmonium.

In addition to the three principal rooms already specified there are several smaller rooms fitted up for classes, in which certain special branches of study may be imparted to the pupils of any particular class without interfering with the studies of other pupils. They will also be used for the hours set apart each day for religious instruction, in the course of which the pupils are classified into several denominations to which their parents belong. Lavatories, dressing rooms, &c., are also attached to each school. The playgrounds are quite a feature in this establishment. Two yards, one for boys and the other for girls, extend for a considerable distance behind the school. Each covers a space of 270 feet by 120 feet, and each has an airing shed, under which the children can play in wet weather.

Lurgan Model SchoolThe contractor for the whole works was Mr Kerr of Dublin, who has finished them to the satisfaction of the Inspector of the Board of Works. Cases filled with specimens of various common objects, models of the working tools of labourers, mechanics, agriculturalists, &c., illustrations of the production of the linen, cotton, and other manufactured are also placed in each room. It is found that object lessons, especially with the infants and very young children, greatly assist the teachers in familiarising the minds of the pupils with the sense, as well as the mere words, of their lessons.

It is clear that the Model School held an important place in the town in the last years of the 19th Century. It had significant support from local industry, and Lord Lurgan was virtually a weekly visitor. It provided an education that was in keeping with the needs of an industrial town, which meant that its pupils were prepared for their future employment. As late as 1899, the Lord Lieutenant's Inspector for Lurgan College was reporting that many Lurgan Parents shunned the opportunities presented by the College, in favour of the more practical courses provided by the Model School.

However, even while the school was being built, the very foundations of the system that it represented were being challenged. There were two main problems. The explicitly non-denominational nature of the Model Schools pleased very few people. As we have already noted, the churches had already largely succeeded in bringing the National Schools under their control. In such developments, the Model Schools stood out as a major challenge, since, given their position in the 'system' they could not be brought under ecclesiastical patronage. As a result, the Model Schools were coming under increasing pressure from Church interests, which was serving to lessen their importance. More seriously, though, there were also serious educational criticisms.

The Powis Committee, set up to investigate the National System, and particularly, the Model Schools, reported in 1870. This report was severely critical of the Model School system. The Teacher Training function was thought to be particularly unsuitable, and it was recommended that this be discontinued. In addition, the centralised control of the schools was thought to be bureaucratic and inefficient. As a result, the Model Schools came increasingly under local control, and lost most of their prestige value.

Nevertheless, the Lurgan Model maintained its dominant position in local education. By the end of the century, it retained its position as the main educational establishment in the town. It had served the town well in its first four decades, and it was to continue that vital contribution throughout its first century and beyond.

The first full annual report was published in 1866 and can be read in full HERE.

Our grateful thanks to Ian Wilson and The Lurgan Model Primary School for the information used in this article.

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