New system of awarding exemptions for study of Irish

School principals to decide on basis of standardised tests

 Minister for Education Joe McHugh said the new system would make the system fairer and more supportive of students. Photograph: Alan Betson

Minister for Education Joe McHugh said the new system would make the system fairer and more supportive of students. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

A new system of awarding exemptions for the study of Irish in primary and secondary schools looks set to relax rules for many pupils.

At present, Irish is compulsory in the education system, though opt-outs are available on the basis of special needs, learning disabilities or if a child has spent a long period outside the State.

Almost 40,000 pupils in schools avail of Irish exemptions.

Exemptions peak approaching State exams in secondary schools, though many of the pupils who avail of exemptions go on to study European languages.

Under a new system, due to come into force in the new school year, pupils in special schools and special classes will be automatically exempted.

Students with special needs or learning disabilities in mainstream schools will no longer require a psychologist’s report.

Instead, exemptions will be awarded on the basis of standardised tests in schools on reading and comprehension.

Exemptions will be awarded by school principals and there will also be an appeals system for the first time.

Minister for Education Joe McHugh said the new system would make the system fairer and more supportive of students, while ensuring pupils had equal access to study the language.

Education sources say the question of whether the system will make it easier to secure exemptions will depend on the exact wording of the new rules, which have yet to be published.

One source said principals would come under acute pressure from many parents to award exemptions if they felt it would benefit their child in the run-up to exams.

Some accommodation will also need to be made to children with conditions such as dyslexia, who are currently able to secure exemptions partly on the basis of psychologists’ reports.

The consultation process around the new exemption regime attracted an unprecedented level of interest, with some 11,000 submissions from parents, students, teachers and other groups.