The number of secondary school students gaining exemption from studying Irish because they have a 'learning difficulty' is rocketing.
But the rapid growth was blamed last night on parents who pay for private psychological reports which say that their children need exemption from the language.
The Teachers' Union of Ireland said there was no doubt that there was an increase in the number of special needs pupils in secondary education. "But there is also a rise in 'designer difficulties' among children whose parents can afford to pay for these reports which are essential for exemption," said union assistant general secretary John Mac Gabhann.
He said there was a clear breach of logic in new figures which showed that despite these 'difficulties', more than half of the exempted pupils still manage to study a modern European language without any problem. The figures show that:
- In 2004 9,907 Irish-born pupils received exemption from Irish, yet 5,519 studied one or more modern European languages.
- In 2005 11,172 Irish-born pupils received exemption from Irish yet 6,025 studied one or more modern European languages.
- In 2006 11,871 Irish-born pupils received an exemption yet 6,341 studied one or more Modern European languages.
In the same period the number of pupils from abroad who received exemption rose from 6,741 in 2004 to 10,076 two years ago.
Mr MacGabhann said that a few years ago the Department of Education and Science promised to take measures to arrest this trend but the number of exemptions for Irish-born students continued to rise.
He said this had consequences for schools as the exempted pupils often remained in Irish classes which tended to demotivate those who had to study the language.
"Even though they are not studying the language, those who are exempted are still the responsibility of the Irish teacher in many cases," Mr MacGabhann said.
The Department said that pupils themselves do not seek exemption. The authority is delegated to the principal of a school to decide on an application for exemption.
"Exemptions under the category of learning disability require assessment by a qualified psychologist," said a spokesperson who would not comment on the TUI claim about some private psychologists being too 'soft' as this was calling their professionalism into question.
Asked why so many were still able to study other languages if they were supposed to be unable to study Irish, the Department said that the choice of subjects, including those for students with an exemption from the study of Irish, was a matter for the student and his or her parents in consultation with the school principal.