Tuesday 22 January 2019

New rules to exempt students from Irish draws reaction

Minister Joe McHugh. Photo: Charlie McManus
Minister Joe McHugh. Photo: Charlie McManus
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

Plans for new rules about how exemptions in Irish are awarded to pupils in primary and post-primary schools have generated huge public reaction.

The Department of Education is proposing a new regime, from September, including a relaxation of the rules for children with special needs.

While Irish is a compulsory subject, pupils may seek an opt-out on the basis of a special educational need or if much of a child's primary education has been in another country.

In 2016, just under 1pc of primary pupils - 5,358 - and a little over 9pc of post-primary pupils - 32,483 - were exempted from the study of Irish.

Exemptions peak when students are approaching State exams, but many of those students study, and sit exams in, foreign languages.

Rules for exemptions date back to the 1990s but according to the Department they are "not working" and are not aligned with modern arrangements around supports for children with special needs.

Schools grant exemptions, but research highlights difficulties by principals in interpreting and implementing the rules, leading to confusion and a lack of consistency.

In relation to children with special needs, key changes include replacing the requirement for a formal diagnosis with a less restrictive approach based on identification of the child's learning needs, in line with current polices in this area.

A raising in the age - from 11 to 12 - at which children who received much of their primary education outside the State, may apply for an exemption, is also proposed.

A public consultation process on the proposals has generated more than 2,100 responses. Education Minister Joe McHugh has announced an extension of the closing date, to January 18.

Irish Independent

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