Irish-exempt students sit for other languages


MORE THAN half of the students granted an exemption from studying Irish for the Leaving Certificate due to a learning difficulty over the last three years have sat or intend to sit other European language exams such as French or German, data from the Department of Education shows.

Provisional figures of this year’s crop of Leaving Certificate students show 2,297 students will not sit the Irish exam due to an exemption, but 1,326 of those intend to sit an exam in another European language.

In the 2008-2009 school year, 2,119 pupils were granted an exemption from taking Irish due to learning disabilities, but more than 1,200 studied another European language. In the 2007-2008 school year, 1,772 students got a similar exemption. The figures show 1,210 studied other European languages over the period.

The figures for this year, obtained initially by RTÉ under the Freedom of Information Act but released generally by the Department of Education yesterday, indicate the total numbers obtaining exemptions from learning Irish has risen from 4,497 in 2008 to 5,818 this year.

The latter figure corresponds to more than 10 per cent of 55,400 students intending to sit this year’s exams, and adds weight to suggestions by many in the sector that some students were deliberately exploiting the exemption criteria to avoid studying Irish.

The rules governing the compulsory study of Irish currently allow for exemptions in cases where students whose primary education was received outside the State or for students who have spent at least three years abroad and students from abroad, who have no understanding of English when enrolled. Certain categories of students with special educational needs are also allowed to gain exemptions from studying the language. Exemptions under the category of learning disability, however, require assessment by a qualified psychologist.

In a statement yesterday, the Department of Education said it has, in recent years, given some consideration “to consolidating and updating” the criteria which govern the granting of exemptions from the study of Irish.

It said: “All aspects of the current arrangements are under consideration as distinct from considering in isolation any one aspect of the existing arrangements.”

“The current policy does not restrict the subject choice of students [including other languages] who are granted an exemption from studying Irish including studying other languages.

“Whether or not this policy should be changed is one of the issues the Tánaiste and Minister for Education Mary Coughlan will consider when looking at the totality of the position in the coming months,” it said.