All-Irish schools to get separate courses
Revamped junior cycle syllabus for schools with fluent speakers
A radical change in the teaching of Irish at junior cycle will see the roll-out of a separate syllabus for students in all-Irish schools from September.
For the first time, pupils in Gaeltacht and other Irish-medium schools will study the native language at a deeper level than those in other schools.
The two new programmes for Irish will be introduced for first years in September, as part of the phasing-in of junior cycle reforms. Both will be taught at higher and ordinary level.
The move to have two separate syllabi follows concerns raised by Irish language organisations about serving the needs of native speakers, or other students who are proficient, or aspire to a high proficiency, in Gaeilge.
It also sits with the Policy on Gaeltacht Education, published by the Department of Education last year. This was the first comprehensive strategy for education in Irish-speaking communities since the establishment of the State.
The strategy aims to ensure the availability of a high-quality Irish-medium educational experience for young people living in Gaeltacht areas and to foster Irish-language proficiency in the wider Gaeltacht community.
The change at junior cycle means that similar consideration will have to be given to having separate programmes in Irish for Irish-medium schools and English-medium schools for Leaving Cert students.
Government education advisers, the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA), have signed off on the new syllabi and have sent them to Education Minister Richard Bruton for final approval.
The programme aimed at English-medium schools, known as L2, is for students who use Irish as a second language and for whom the Irish class is their main engagement with Gaeilge.
The other syllabus, known as L1, is for both learners and native speakers of Irish in Gaeltacht schools and students in Irish-medium schools or all-Irish units within English-medium schools.
It is targeted at students who use the language on a daily basis, whether at home, school or in the community, and already have well-developed skills in the native tongue.
Apart from promoting richer language and vocabulary, this syllabus will have a greater focus on cultural awareness and topics such as language patterns and differentiation between dialects.
According to the NCCA, the provision of enriched language-learning experiences for all students, particularly those who are native speakers of Irish, is of utmost importance.
The hope is that the higher levels of skill and understanding developed through the L1 syllabus will support Irish speakers to take advantage of opportunities for language use in the community and play an active part in Gaeltacht life.
While the two syllabi were drawn up to meet the needs of different sectors, schools will have the option of offering both, if there is demand.
Work on the two syllabi began after the standard NCCA consultation on a proposed new syllabus for junior cycle Irish in 2015.
Serious concerns were raised about the capacity of a single syllabus to meet the needs of students of widely varying levels of proficiency and competence in the language.
In one survey, 60pc of those who replied through the English version felt that a single syllabus was adequate.
In contrast, 64pc of those who replied on the Gaeilge version disagreed.
The strong feelings led to an extension of the consultation and a forum to explore how best to address the issue, which, in turn, prompted the development of the two separate syllabi.