Mixed reaction to plans to relax school exemptions for studying Irish

Irish language group warns measure could be a ‘back door’ to making subject optional

Irish will remain compulsory in schools and opt-outs will continue to be made available for pupils with learning difficulties or who have spent long periods outside the State.

Irish will remain compulsory in schools and opt-outs will continue to be made available for pupils with learning difficulties or who have spent long periods outside the State.

 

An Irish language group has expressed concern that plans to relax the rules around securing Irish exemptions could be a “back door” to making the language an optional subject in future.

Minister for Education Joe McHugh on Monday announced an overhaul of the system for awarding exemptions for studying the language which is due to come into force in the new school year.

Irish will remain compulsory in schools and opt-outs will continue to be made available for pupils with learning difficulties or who have spent long periods outside the State.

Under the new criteria, pupils will no longer need psychological assessments to secure an exemption from studying Irish, while standardised tests will be the main method to determine if students are eligible for opt-outs.

These changes, however, have not been welcomed by the Irish-speaking community.

Gaeloideachas said there was a risk the new rules will, in effect, be a back door to making Irish an optional subject in the future.

‘Negative focus’

It added that the automatic exemptions for special-needs pupils sent out a “problematic message” that Irish-medium education was not suitable for students with special educational needs.

“Instead of a negative focus on exemptions for studying Irish, the focus should instead be a positive and constructive one, with more support for pupils, more training for teachers, more emphasis on differentiation in teaching and more suitable resources available, to provide the benefit of the Irish language on an equal basis to all,” the group said.

Conradh na Gaeilge’s general secretary, Julian de Spáinn, said there have been no measures put in place to reduce the number of exemptions for the study of Irish. He said Ireland had never had a joined-up thinking approach to teaching Irish and he believed “schools need to change how it is taught, especially in the early years”.

Welcomed changes

However, the Dyslexia Association of Ireland welcomed the changes. Chief executive Rosie Bissett said the announcement was something the association had been waiting for “for a very long time.

“The old Irish exemption criteria was not fit for purpose and we look forward to the implementation of new criteria which we have been very involved in advocating for,” she said.

Amy Smyth, the association’s information and advocacy co-ordinator, said it was a big day for children with dyslexia and their parents.

“We welcome that many of our recommendations have now been taken on board. This will hopefully create a much fairer system,” she said.

The Minister said the decision to grant an exemption from the study of Irish “should not be taken lightly’’.

The new guidelines will be issued to schools in the coming weeks and will be available on the Department of Education’s website at the start of the new school year.