While Catholic schools were forbidden under the Penal laws from 1723 to 1782, no hedge teachers were known to be prosecuted. Indeed, official records were made of hedge schools by census makers. Example The laws' main target was education by the main Catholic religious orders, whose wealthier establishments were occasionally confiscated. The laws aimed to force Irish Catholics of the middle classes and gentry to convert to Anglicanism if they wanted a good education in Ireland.
Hedge schools declined from the foundation of the National School system by government in the 1830s. James Doyle, Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin preferred this, as the new schools would be largely under the control of his church and allow a better teaching of Catholic doctrine. He wrote to his priests in 1831:
[The Roman Catholic bishops] welcomed the rule which requires that all the teachers henceforth to be employed be provided from some Model School, with a certificate of their competency, that will aid us in a work of great difficulty, to wit, that of suppressing hedge schools, and placing youths under the direction of competent teachers, and of those only.
Fernández-Suárez (see below) has found that hedge schools existed into the 1890s, suggesting that the schools had existed as much from rural poverty and a lack of resources as from religious oppression. Marianne Eliott also mentions that they were used by the poor and not just by the Catholics. While the hedge schools were unfunded, the national school system set up from 1831 was ahead of school provision in England at that time. After 1900 some historians like Daniel Corkery tended to emphasize the hedge schools' classical studies (in Latin and Greek) - however, while these studies were sometimes taught (based on a local demand) they were not always common to every school.