New criteria to remove obstacle to Irish-medium schools

Rule change to place greater emphasis on meeting significant parental demand for Gaelscoileanna

Irish-medium schools tend to be oversubscribed and students often end up having to travel greater distances to schools located in other districts or are forced to attend English-medium schools when the option of Irish-medium education is not available to them. Above: Schoolchildren from Gaelscoil Chnoc Liamhna during a protest outside Leinster House in 2017. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Irish-medium schools tend to be oversubscribed and students often end up having to travel greater distances to schools located in other districts or are forced to attend English-medium schools when the option of Irish-medium education is not available to them. Above: Schoolchildren from Gaelscoil Chnoc Liamhna during a protest outside Leinster House in 2017. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

One of the biggest impediments to the establishment of Irish-medium schools is set to be removed following an investigation into the school patronage process by the office of An Coimisinéir Teanga (Irish language Ombudsman).

The investigation, carried out last year, prompted the Department of Education to recommend changes to how the school patronage process operates. If implemented, the changes will see greater emphasis placed on meeting the demand for Irish-medium schools and could lead to the establishment of more Gaelscoileanna across the country.

Critics have long argued that the existing criteria for awarding school patronage is skewed against those who wish to have their children educated through Irish, as it is numerically weighted in favour of the patron body that collects the most expressions of interest in a given area.

Under the revised system, parents hoping to school their children through Irish would not have to be in a numerical majority in areas where new schools are planned.

Instead, if a proportion of parents seeking a new school state a preference for their children to be schooled through Irish, then two schools – one English-medium and one Irish-medium school – will be built to accommodate that need. In some instances it is likely facilities would shared.

The exact parameters have yet to be decided but research published by the ESRI in 2015 shows almost one-quarter of respondents (23 per cent) said they would consider sending their child, or would have sent their child, to an all-Irish primary school if one were located near their home.

Investigation

The move to revise the policy follows a formal investigation by the office of An Coimisinéir Teanga Rónán Ó Domhnaill into a decision not to award patronage to an Irish-medium inter-denominational school in north Dublin in 2016.

The bid for a school in the Drumcondra/Marino and Dublin 1 area was turned down despite the fact that the parents of 361 students had demonstrated their preference that Irish-medium education be available to them. Educate Together was awarded patronage on the basis that it had 622 expressions of interest.

Mr Ó Domhnaill concluded that the language provisions of the Education Act relating to the language and cultural needs of students, along with parental choice, had not been fulfilled by the department in the process to appoint a patron.