Department won't force schools to teach English
The Department of Education has backed down in a row over the use of English in all-Irish primary schools.
It has officially withdrawn a controversial circular that was the subject of a High Court challenge due to be heard next week.
The circular said Irish-medium schools had to introduce English tuition in primary schools no later than the beginning of the second term of junior infants.
The row started three years ago when Mary Hanafin was Education and Science Minister and she insisted English be introduced to infants at Gaelscoil Mhic Easmainn in Tralee, Co Kerry. However, the school favoured a policy of total immersion in Irish in junior infants.
The department last night announced that it was proposing to prescribe the primary curriculum by regulation.
"This means English may be delayed in Irish-medium schools up to the end of the first term of senior infants with the approval of the school's board of management and after consultation with the patron, teachers and parents' association. However, where English is sought by a parent from the outset, it must be taught by the school," said a spokesperson.
Education Minister Batt O'Keeffe intends to give a copy of the draft regulation to the education partners and Irish language organisations before laying it before the Houses of the Oireachtas during the coming weeks.
The U-turn on the circular was welcomed by Gaelscoileanna Teo, which said it opened the door to the necessary and comprehensive development of the early immersion education system in gaelscoileanna.
It congratulated the plaintiffs in the legal case. Chief executive Blathnaid ni Ghreachain said: "This is very positive news and we welcome the department's decision to strengthen the Irish-medium education sector, thereby allowing schools to continue to implement the most effective system of language acquisition available.
"This departure illustrates the positive effect of collaborative efforts and we are very grateful to all in the sector for their unrelenting lobbying."
Meanwhile, Comhdhail Naisiunta na Gaeilge told an Oireachtas Joint Committee it wanted to see an integrated curriculum for teaching Irish from pre-school to third level.
The role of Chomhairle um Oideachas Gaeltachta agus Gaelscolaiochta in the promotion of the Irish language through the Irish-medium education system should be strengthened in the Government's 20-year strategy for the Irish language, it added.