Probe as more pupils shun Irish
Half of students exempted due to learning disability study other languages
EDUCATION Minister Mary Coughlan is to examine whether second-level students who do not study Irish should be allowed to learn another language.
Some students who seek exemptions from Irish may only do so to avoid what they regard as a difficult or useless subject, principals have claimed.
More than half of this year's Leaving Certificate candidates not sitting Irish on learning disability grounds will, however, take an exam in a modern European language.
There has been a growing trend of students released from the obligation of studying the national language on the basis of learning disabilities such as dyslexia.
Clive Byrne, director of the second-level National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals (NAPD) said he had no problem if students were exempt from Irish on the basis of a psychologist's report.
"My difficulty is that they are well able to study French, German or Italian," he said.
"It is an issue where a number of students or parents are using the system because Irish is seen as a subject that is not useful, or as a difficult one in which to achieve a higher grade."
The growth in exemptions is causing concern in the Department of Education, which has been conducting a review of the issue, including whether students not taking Irish should be restricted from taking another language.
In the coming months, the minister will consider whether this policy should be changed, a spokesperson said.
The policy review has implications for entry to third-level, particularly the NUI colleges of UCD, UCC, NUI Galway and NUI Maynooth, where students are required to have a pass grade in Irish, and for some courses, a third language.
The NUI is concerned that no advantage would be given to a student who has an exemption in Irish on learning disability grounds -- yet who is capable of learning a foreign language.
According to provisional figures released to RTE, 2,297 Leaving Certificate candidates -- out of an estimated total of 55,455 -- will not sit Irish due to learning disabilities, but 1,326 of those same students have registered to sit an exam in French, Spanish or German.
Last year, 2,119 Leaving Certificate candidates had an exemption in Irish, 1,210 of whom did another European language. In 2008, 1,772 candidates had an exemption, and 1,044 of those sat an exam in another European language.
Across the entire second-level system, the total number of students with exemptions in Irish rose from around 20,000 in 2005/06 to the present figure of around 30,000.
There are 39 schools where 10 or more students have an exemption.
It is compulsory to study the Irish language at secondary-school level.
Pupils who can seek exemption also include those who move to Ireland from abroad and whose first language is not English.
Pupils with special educational needs and those whose primary education up to 11 years was received outside the State --or who are being re-enrolled after a period of at least three years abroad -- may also seek not to study Irish.
It is then up to the school authorities to decide whether individual students are eligible.
Exemptions under the category of learning disabilities also require an assessment by a qualified psychologist.