Thousands exempt from Irish sitting other language exams

Department reviewing process following claims the system is being ‘gamed’

Irish is perceived to be one of the most challenging subjects in the Leaving Cert. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

Irish is perceived to be one of the most challenging subjects in the Leaving Cert. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

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The Department of Education is reviewing the granting of exemptions from studying Irish amid evidence that thousands of students who secure them are sitting exams in foreign languages.

The latest official figures show 3,851 students were granted an exemption to sit the Leaving Cert Irish exam in 2016 on the grounds of a disability.

Almost 60 per cent of these (2,227 students) went on to study a European language such as French, German or Spanish.

Students or their parents are required to submit a psychologist’s report in order to secure an exemption on the grounds of disability.

However, the validity of some privately commissioned psychologists’ reports have been queried by senior education figures.

The National University of Ireland (NUI) said it had challenged cases where psychologists’ reports were not accurate.

“Where it has appeared to us that psychologists have not fully understood our criteria, we have clarified these for them,” said Dr Attracta O’Halpin, the NUI’s registrar. “We are keeping the system under review and are monitoring it closely.”

Questioned

Some school principals have questioned the reasons behind the numbers amid claims that the system is being “gamed” in order to avoid what many students perceive to be one of the most challenging Leaving Cert subjects.

Clive Byrne, of the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals, said: “Certain school leaders have queried the increase in numbers of students with exemptions in Irish, and the implications it may have for third level progression.”

However, the Dyslexia Association of Ireland has insisted there are genuine reasons why many students who secure exemptions end up studying a European language.

The association says students with dyslexia need additional time and learning support in order to build their literacy skills in English at primary level.

Many of these students may go on to learn a second language in secondary school at the same time as other pupils.

Stringent

While the association has accepted that some individuals may try to “play” the system, it has said the criteria to get an Irish exemption on the grounds of dyslexia are very stringent.

The Department has confirmed it is reviewing arrangements for the granting of exemptions from the study of Irish.

It intends to publish the review and draft revised circulars early in the new school year.

“The outcome of this public consultation process will inform the finalisation of revised arrangements for the granting of exemptions from the study of Irish,” it said.

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