Have officials dismantled policy on Irish?
Sir, – Prof Pádraig Ó Duibhir in his article on Monday has not only raised some serious questions regarding the pedagogical basis for the new arrangements for giving exemptions to pupils from learning Irish, but has also indirectly raised the question of the bona fides of the Department of Education in regard to this question (“Irish-language exemption plans go against best practice”, Opinion & Analysis, August 19th). I refer in particular to his view that the online questionnaire which was issued as part of the consultation process was skewed towards the recommendations contained in draft circulars issued beforehand. Moreover, he states that there was very little scope within the questionnaire to put forward alternatives to exemption and “no rationale for employing subject exemptions in the first place” was given.
Another aspect of the new arrangements for granting exemption which I find disturbing is that the responsibility for deciding who gets or does not get an exemption, albeit after a test, is to be placed on school principals. Not only will this put them in an invidious and in my view unacceptable position vis-a-vis parents but is an abdication of responsibility by the Department of Education.
Unfortunately none of this should surprise anybody as the Department of Education has presided over a decline in standards of Irish (by both teachers and pupils) for at least the last 30 years.
I refer for instance to the chief inspector’s own report 2013-2016 in which the quality of learning and teaching of Irish was unsatisfactory in 28 per cent of primary schools inspected while the quality of learning Irish in second-level schools was less than satisfactory in 21 per cent of cases, (though English wasn’t much better). No action to my knowledge has been taken to correct this situation.Teacher training, in-service training, the lack of Irish teachers and indeed of other subjects, and the shortage of subject teachers in all-Irish and Gaeltacht secondary schools competent to teach through Irish are all areas needing rapid remedial action. The Leaving Cert oral examination needs independent assessment as well, since questions have been raised about the standard, with one educational acquaintance of mine referring to it as a “farce”.
All of this raises a more fundamental question: presiding as it is over a decline in the position of Irish in the educational system, has the Department of Education in effect been making (or perhaps more accurately dismantling) national policy without any mandate or debate? Furthermore, given that the Department of Social Protection has just been instructed by the Data Protection Commissioner to delete data which it had gathered on 3.2 million citizens without any basis in law, perhaps it is time for a serious debate about accountability and the Civil Service and the workings of democracy in Ireland. – Yours, etc,
Baile Átha Cliath 16.