Number of primary school pupils taught through Irish at record level
Irish as primary language of education has risen from 6.4% in 2000 to 8.1% in 2018/19
Co Cavan has the lowest rate at less than 1 per cent of pupils with only one school in the county offering classes through Irish. Photograph: David Sleator/The Irish Times
The number of pupils being taught through Irish in primary school have reached record high levels in the recent school year.
Almost one in 12 schoolchildren at primary level are receiving their education through Irish,new figures published by the Department of Education show.
Irish as the primary language of education has risen steadily from 6.4 per cent of primary pupils in 2000 to 8.1 per cent in 2018/19.
A total of 45,278 students across 247 primary schools were taught through the medium of Irish in the recent school year, an annual increase of 1.5 per cent.
The majority of schools, 147 with almost 38,000 pupils, are located outside Gaeltacht areas.
However, the figures show there is wide variation across the Republic in the proportion of students being educated through Irish.
The highest rate is in Galway city where almost a quarter of all primary schoolchildren are taught through Irish.
Other areas with rates over 10 per cent include Cork city and county, Galway county, Donegal and Monaghan.
In contrast, Cavan has the lowest rate at less than 1 per cent of pupils with only one school in the county offering classes through Irish.
Only one gaelscoil is also available in Roscommon, Sligo, Laois, Longford, Kilkenny and Carlow.
An Foras Pátrúnachta, the largest patron of gaelscoileanna, has welcomed the recent initiative announced by the Minister for Education, Joe McHugh to increase access to Irish-medium education.
Under the new system, a new school being established in an area with a growing population will be a gaelscoil if there is no existing one.
In addition, at least one school will provide education through Irish where a number of new schools are being established in the same school planning area.
Other measures include a pilot on delivering two eight-classroom schools, one in English and one in Irish, in a shared building rather than one 16-classroom school and an opportunity for the patrons of schools to change their language of instruction from English to Irish.
An Foras Pátrúnachta’s general secretary, Caoimhín Ó hEaghra, said the changes represented a process for addressing “an imbalance” in the provision of Irish-medium education.
The patron body said a pilot patronage process system where parents indicated their choice of ethos and language of instruction of new primary schools showed 26 per cent on average favoured a school providing classes through Irish.
“These steps will result in supply better meeting demand and moving away from a situation where less than 5 per cent of primary schools are gaelscoileanna,” Mr Ó hEaghra said.
As a sign of growing demand for education through Irish, he pointed out that although there is only one gaelscoil in Co Cavan, which first opened 25 years ago, its numbers had grown from 30 to 100 within the past two years.
However, Mr Ó hEaghra said many students attending gaelscoileanna still had difficulty in continuing their education through Irish after leaving primary school due to the relatively small number of gaelcholáiste.
At secondary level, a total of 13,051 students in 49 schools were taught through Irish in the recent school year – 3.6 per cent of all post-primary pupils.