The Stanley letter is the title given to a letter written in 1831 by Edward Stanley (who later became The 14th Earl of Derby), then Chief Secretary for Ireland. This letter outlined his broad vision and a very practical proposal which helped the U.K. Government to establish legal basis for national schools in Ireland. The letter was written two years after the government led by Field Marshal The 1st Duke of Wellington, in a very close alliance with the accomplished Irish patriot of constitutional revolution Daniel O'Connell, secured the passage and Royal Proclamation of the Catholic Emancipation bill. It was penned by the Chief Secretary for Ireland, Edward Stanley (later Prime Minister of the United Kingdom as The 14th Earl of Derby) and was addressed to The 3rd Duke of Leinster.
The proposal in the Stanley letter was considered a policy experiment especially from the view that "Ireland, as a colony could be used as an experimental milieu for social legislation which might not be tolerated in England where laissez-faire politico-economic policies were more rigid and doctrinaire." This was also the case for Irish initiatives involving the police force and health services. Stanley's framework involved the establishment of "a board for the superintendence of a system of national education" integrating key measures and educational conventions in place in Ireland such as the state-supported, mass system foundered on the denominational issue.
In line with the Letter's suggestions, a Board of Commission of National Education was established which disbursed funds for school building, the hiring of teachers and inspectors and provided grants for schools. The Board tried to mix Catholic and Protestant students by favouring applications for 'mixed' schools. However, in the years after the 1830s, different religious denominations begin to apply separately for control of schools to the extent that in 2010, approximately 1 percent of schools (34 out of 3279) are not under the control of a religious organization, with the remaining 99 percent under religious control.
The new policy was credited for spreading literacy, especially to the poor communities. By 1831, the national schools based on Stanley's model has enrolled more than 100,000 children, a figure that increased to almost 1 million within 40 years. Teacher training was also enhanced. For example, the paid monitors, the lowest grade teachers, were evaluated annually using the instructional materials used in schools.
- Irish Educational Documents, vol. 1, Áine Hyland, Kenneth Milne, Church of Ireland College of Education, pp.98-103
- Coolahan, John (1981). Irish Education: Its History and Structure. Dublin: Institute of Public Administration. p. 4. ISBN 0906980119.
- Drudy, Sheelagh (2009). Education in Ireland: Challenge and Change. Dublin: Gill Books. ISBN 9780717155446.
- The Blackwell companion to modern Irish culture, W. J. McCormack, p.191
- Bourke, Angela (2002). The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing, Volume 5. New York: New York University Press. p. 648. ISBN 0814799078.
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- The Letter was recently published in the book "We Declare - Landmark Documents in Ireland's History", Richard Aldous and Niamh Puirseil, 2008, Quercus,ISBN 978 1 84724 6721
- The text of the letter is online at http://www.education.ie/en/Schools-Colleges/Information/Boards-of-Management/Stanley-letter-1831-Boards-Of-Management.pdf