Oireachtas hears criticisms of proposals for Leaving Cert Irish

Numbers of students seeking exemptions from the subject may ‘increase significantly’

Proposals to change the specifications for Leaving Cert Irish have been criticised at a sitting of the Joint Oireachtas committee on Leaving Cert reform.

The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) published a set of proposals earlier this year which would see the introduction of a differentiated model at Irish-medium and English-medium schools.

Irish-medium education and Gaeltacht groups represented at Tuesday's education committee hearing called for a comprehensive review of similar changes introduced at Junior Cycle level in 2017 before any similar changes are made at senior cycle level.

The NCCA’s draft proposals for the Leaving Cert published in February would see the introduction of “Teanga 1” (T1), a more challenging syllabus in Irish-medium schools and schools located in Gaeltacht areas, while a less challenging “Teanga 2” (T2) syllabus would be designed for pupils attending English-medium schools.

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Foundation Irish (bonnleibhéal ) would no longer be examined under the proposals while marks allocated for the oral exam would also be reduced.

Opposition

Pádraig Ó Beaglaoich from An Chomhairle um Oideachas Gaeltachta agus Gaelscolaíochta (COGG) which provides support services for Irish-medium schools, said students, parents and teachers at T1 schools were “very opposed” to the changes.

Under the new proposals, Mr Ó Beaglaoich said students at T1 schools would be expected to complete a more difficult course and undergo a more challenging assessment than students at other schools “when there would be no advantage to them in doing so”.

Mr Ó Beaglaoich said this approach was not to be found “anywhere else” in the post-primary system and said there was a danger that the Gaeltacht and Irish-medium education system “will be greatly damaged” if the current plan proceeds.

Fíona Uí Uiginn, representing Gaeloideachas, a body that supports the development of Irish-medium education, said students take a “very strategic” approach to the Leaving Cert and should be incentivised in the form of CAO points if they are to undertake a more challenging syllabus.

Mr Uí Uiginn, who recently co-authored a discussion paper on the NCCA proposals, was critical of the decision to discontinue the bonnleibhéal which caters for students who are not as proficient in the language.

“All students have the right to have a course available in Irish at a level appropriate to their ability,” she said.

If these students are not catered for at foundation level, she said there is “a strong risk” that the numbers of students that seek exemptions from Irish in the Leaving Certificate will “increase significantly”.

Sorcha Ní Chéilleachair of Tuismitheoirí na Gaeltachta (TnaG) said there were significant differences between Gaeltacht-based schools and Irish-medium schools located in non-Gaeltacht areas.

“TnaG is very concerned that the Gaeltacht will be left in the ha’penny place,” she said, adding that there was a “lack of emphasis” on the Gaeltacht in the process.

Ms Ní Chéilleachair also called for the 2017 changes to the Junior Cycle to be reviewed. “If the foundations are not right,” she said, “it doesn’t matter what you add to them, it will not work.”

Planning ahead

Julian de Spáinn, general secretary of Conradh na Gaeilge, called for greater integration of the Leaving Certificate with State policy on Irish.

He pointed out that the Official Languages (Amendment) Bill 2019, due to be enacted before the end of the year, contains a commitment that by 2030 20 per cent of all recruits to the civil service will be proficient in Irish.

Mr de Spáinn said there was an opportunity to ensure that students reach a standard where they could use their Irish in a professional setting. He said the Irish syllabus should be aligned with the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFRL).

The CEFRL is a standardised scale used by educational institutions and employers to evaluate the language qualifications and competency of candidates. “It would be a wasted opportunity if the CEFRL is not adopted,” Mr de Spáinn said. Not doing so could lead to “another generation of students leaving school with expertise in examination strategies instead of being proficient in language and communication”.

Caoimhín Ó hEaghra of An Foras Patrúnachta called for greater inter-departmental co-operation regarding the implementation of Irish language policy.

He said that while the proposed Leaving Certificate specifications were being discussed by the committee, the availability of secondary level Irish-medium schools needed to be addressed.

A “positive policy on the establishment of Irish-medium secondary schools” was required and requests for the establishment of Gaelcholáistí should not be refused when demand has been established, he said.

Refusing such requests neglected the needs of the Irish language community and showed a “complete disregard” for State policy.

The NCCA consultation on the draft specifications for Leaving Certificate Irish L1 and L2 is open at ncca.ie until 5pm on November 30th.

Éanna Ó Caollaí

Éanna Ó Caollaí

Éanna Ó Caollaí is an Irish Times journalist and editor of the Irish Times Student Hub