Wednesday 18 September 2019

Overhaul of rules on exemptions from Irish faces criticism

But Dyslexia Association welcomes 'fairer' system

Education minister Joe McHugh. Photo: Frank McGrath
Education minister Joe McHugh. Photo: Frank McGrath
Gareth Morgan

Gareth Morgan

Changes to the rules on exemptions from studying Irish have been criticised by Conradh na Gaeilge.

The language organisation said Education Minister Joe McHugh's reforms could have given pupils who might struggle with the written exams more options.

It described the overhaul, which kicks in this September for the new school year, as a missed opportunity.

However the Dyslexia Association of Ireland (DAI) welcomed the move for creating a "more equitable and fairer educational system".

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 one key reform, pupils with a learning difficulty, such as dyslexia, will no longer need a psychological assessment to support an application to drop the subject.

That will remove a significant financial burden on parents, many of whom paid €600 or more for a private assessment.

And an application for an exemption on age-related grounds may be sought only if a child has had most of their primary education outside the country up to the age of 12, instead of 11 under existing arrangements.

The DAI has been lobbying for change to the exemption criteria for many years.

Chief executive Rosie Bissett said: "Today's announcement is something that we have been waiting for a very long time.

"The old Irish exemption criteria was not fit for purpose and we look forward to the implementation of new criteria which we have been very involved in advocating for.

"This is a more holistic approach to accessing Irish exemption and we hope that it eliminates the false perception that children with dyslexia are somehow accessing supports that they are not entitled to or are faking their very real and very serious difficulties.

"We are hoping that this is a start of a shift in the narrative around persons with invisible disabilities in Ireland."

However, Conradh na Gaeilge said the new system "could have serious implications".

Niall Comer, president of Conradh na Gaeilge, said: "Conradh na Gaeilge agrees with Minister Joe McHugh that bilingualism provides additional benefits for the student, particularly in learning a third language and maths.

"It is unfortunate, therefore, that the minister did not propose to put in place a system that reduces the reasons why pupils seek exemption.

"For example, a pupil with learning difficulties, particularly with writing, could do Irish for the Leaving Certificate based on the oral exam which would ensure that the pupil is included in the Irish class, rather than being excluded.

"This would give the pupil the opportunity to study Irish based on their ability."

Conradh na Gaeilge is also questioning why a new system could not have been put in place for pupils entering the education system late.

The organisation suggests they could learn Irish to a certain level using the European Framework for Language Learning, and achieve leaving certificate points based on this level.

Irish Independent

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