Department ‘to consider Irish language’ in patronage process
Move does not cater to demand for education through Irish, warns Gaelscoil advocate
Minister for Education Richard Bruton is to decide on the patronage for nine new post-primary schools due to open by September 2018. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times
A move to incorporate language preference in the process used by the Department of Education when awarding school patronage has been criticised by Irish language body An Foras Pátrúnachta.
The change means it is open to all prospective patron applicants to propose a preference for Irish- or English-medium education in their application in the case of nine new post-primary schools due to open by September 2018.
Mr Caoimhín Ó hEaghra, general secretary of the Irish language patron, said the change does not address the needs of the community it is supposed to serve.
“As the vast majority of people speak English they would choose English-medium education,” Mr Ó hEaghra said.
While the department has said it will take “existing Irish-medium provision in the adjacent school planning areas” into account in its assessment, Mr Ó hEaghra said: “A fairer way would be to ascertain if there was Irish-medium provision in place. If not, it should be”, he added.
Campaigners have long argued the school selection process is skewed against those who wish to have their children educated through Irish on the basis that they cannot numerically compete with English-language schools in strictly-defined catchment areas.
The result is that children who attend such schools often have to travel from school districts where Irish language schooling is not available to them.
Citing a 2015 ESRI study on attitudes towards the Irish language on the island of Ireland, Mr Ó hEaghra said: “Twenty-three per cent of parents stated they would send their children to Irish-medium education if it was available.”
In an effort to satisfy the department’s geographical criteria, An Foras Pátrúnachta recently submitted a joint application with the Laois-Offaly Education and Training Board for a multi-denominational community college in Portlaoise - one of the nine schools due to open by 2018.
If the application is successful, the new school will incorporate an all-Irish unit, or aonad lán-Ghaeilge, which will eventually evolve into a fully independent Gael Choláiste.
Mr Ó hEaghra said if it was “to implement its stated support for the Irish language and Irish-medium education then it must engage in an active policy of supporting their development as opposed to a passive one.”
“This would require ensuring that they had the resources to provide subject choice, etc, until such a time as the number of pupils in the school has grown to a sustainable level,” he added.
Six of the schools outlined by the department are due to open next September and will serve the following school planning areas:
– Limerick city and environs (south-west)
– Lucan, Co Dublin
– Portlaoise, Co Laois
– Swords, Co Dublin
The remaining three schools are due to open in September 2018 and will serve the following school planning areas:
– Limerick city and environs (east)
– Dublin south city centre (Dublin 2,4,6 and 8)
– Firhouse, Dublin 24