Irish Exemption

Exemptions from the Study of Irish

Primary Circular 0052/2019 and Post-Primary Circular 0053/2019

1.  Why are pupils/students required to study Irish?

The Irish language is accorded special status in Ireland and is protected by various pieces of Legislation and in particular Article 8 of our Constitution which states that “The Irish Language as the national language is the first official language”. The Education Act 1998 recognises the particular responsibility of the education system with regard to supporting the Irish language. The language has particular social, historical and educational importance and is part of the unique cultural heritage of the Irish people. It is an aim of Government to increase on an incremental basis the use and knowledge of Irish as a community language.

In recognising the linguistic, social and cultural importance of Irish and English in Ireland, both languages are included as core subjects in the national curricula for recognised primary and post-primary schools and centres for education in Ireland. This has been the case since the foundation of the State and the importance of the teaching of both languages in this way has been re-affirmed on a number of occasions by the State, including most recently in the 20-Year Strategy for the Irish Language 2010-2030. Indeed, the most recent curricular changes at primary and junior cycle level have emphasised not only the importance of learning both languages but also the wider benefits of bilingualism. The development of these new language curricula reflects the Department’s reassertion of its commitment to the Irish language and to progressing the language education related actions of the 20-Year Strategy for the Irish Language 2010-2030.

2. What are the exceptional circumstances in which a school may consider granting an exemption from the study of Irish?

The only exceptional circumstances in which consideration may be given to granting an exemption from the study of Irish in the case of primary schools are set out in Section 2.2a, 2.2b, 2.2c and 2.2d of Circular 0052/2019 and in Section 2.2a, 2.2b and 2.2c of Circular 0053/2019 for post-primary schools.

An exemption from the study of Irish may also be granted in the case of pupils/students in special schools and in special classes in mainstream schools as outlined in Section 1.2 of both circulars.

In line with the Department’s policy however, schools are expected and encouraged to provide all pupils (including those granted an exemption), to the greatest extent possible and in a meaningful way, with opportunities to participate in Irish language and cultural activities at a level appropriate to their learning needs.

  • In the case that an exemption from the study of Irish is granted it should be noted that an exemption held by a pupil/student will continue to be operative until the end of his/her post-primary education.
  • A pupil/student holding an exemption has the option not to exercisethe exemption granted, without any loss of the right to exercise it at a future time.

Note: The Circulars apply only to recognised English-medium primary and post-primary schools. Pupils/Students not enrolled in recognised English-medium primary and post-primary schools cannot be granted an exemption from the study of Irish under the terms of these circulars.

See questions 20 – 22 for further information

3. If a pupil/student moves from a special school/special class into a mainstream school/mainstream class, do they need to apply for a Certificate of exemption from the study of Irish?

No. Pupils/Students in special schools and special classes may be exempt without holding a certificate of exemption. Once a pupil/student holds an exemption from the study of Irish, it may be operational for the duration of their primary and post primary education.

In order for pupils who are exempt from the study of Irish to be recognised when the Department validates school enrolment returns for grant payment and teacher allocation purposes, schools will continue to be required to record data on pupils/students who are exempt from the study of Irish and the reason for the exemption on the Primary and Post Primary on-line Databases including those who are transferring into the mainstream school/class from a special school/class.

In order to assist transition to a mainstream school/class, the Principal of the special school/class should provide the pupil/student’s parent(s)/guardian(s) with a Certificate of Exemption granted in accordance with Section 1.2 of the Circular and Section 8 of the Guidance document available on the Department’s website. The pupil’s/student’s Student Support File should be up to date and include a copy of the Certificate of Exemption.

It is the responsibility of the parent(s)/guardian(s) to ensure that a copy of the pupil/student’s Certificate of Exemption is made available to the receiving school. It may also be used as evidence to support an application to a third level college for an exemption from their matriculation requirements.

NOTE: A special school/class is one that is one that is designated and resourced by the NCSE - https://ncse.ie/for-parents/ncse-school-information-map.

4.  Can a pupil who is 11 ½ enrolling in primary school in Ireland for the first time be granted an exemption from the study of Irish?

In the case of an application made under sub-paragraph 2.2a of the Circulars, an exemption may be granted where the pupil has received his/her education up to 12 years of age or up to and including the final year of the relevant programme for primary education, outside the State and where he/she did not have opportunity to engage in the study of Irish.

If the pupil has completed his/her primary education outside the state and this primary education did not include the study of Irish, and if the School Principal is satisfied that there is evidence to this effect, then an exemption may be granted.

In the case of an application made under sub-paragraph 2.2.d of the primary school circular, a child of a foreign diplomat or consular representative in Ireland may be exempt from the study of Irish irrespective of their age.

See also Question 7

5. Can a pupil who is enrolling in school in Ireland and has no understanding of English or Irish be exempted from the study of Irish?

If the grounds for application are in line with the exceptional circumstances as set out in Section 2.2 of the Circulars and the pupil meets those criteria, then he/she may be granted an exemption from the study of Irish.

If not, in accordance with Section 4 of the Circular, the pupil should be provided with intensive English as an Additional Language (EAL) support in preparation for his/her full engagement with the Primary Language Curriculum at a level commensurate with his/her ability.

6.My child has not been learning much Irish while schooling from home when the school buildings were closed as a precaution against the spread of COVID-19; can she/he be granted an Exemption from the study of Irish?

All children educated in Ireland are expected to have the opportunity to study Irish to an appropriate standard, unless they meet the criteria for an exemption for the study of Irish. The closure of schools in response to the risk to health caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the education of the entire cohort of children attending school, it is a matter which schools should take into account in planning the education provision for students over the next few years.

Post-primary principals considering an application for an exemption from the study of Irish under Section 2.2.a of Circular 0053/2019 for any student who enrolled for the first time in a recognised school in Ireland into 5th or 6th class during 2019/20 or into 6th class during the 2020/21 academic year should note the Information Notice published here for further guidance on the interpretation of Circular 0053/2019

7.  My child enrolled from abroad for the first time into 5th class or into 6th class during the 2019/2020 school year or enrolled from abroad into 6th class during 2020/21. My child had no experience of learning Irish before and due to periods of school closure in response to COVID-19, my child has not been able to make satisfactory progress in learning Irish in primary school. My child is now enrolled in post-primary school. Can she/he be granted an Exemption from the study of Irish?

In the case of children who have moved from abroad and enrolled in an School in Ireland for the first time into 5th class or into 6th class during the 2019/2020 school year or enrolled from abroad into 6th class during 2020/21, the Department of Education considers that this group, who are encountering the study of Irish for the first time, may not have had the opportunity to engage with the study of Irish and have issued a guidance note to Post-primary principals considering applications for an exemption from the study of Irish under Section 2.2.a of Circular 0053/2019 for these children once they reach 1st Year 2020/21 or 1st year 2021/22 only. A copy of the guidance note is available here.

The closure of schools in response to the risk to health caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the education of the entire cohort of children attending school, it is a matter which schools should take into account in planning the education provision for students over the next few years.

All children educated in Ireland are expected to have the opportunity to study Irish to an appropriate standard, unless they meet the criteria for an exemption for the study of Irish. In all cases, including the case of pupils/students with an Exemption from the study of Irish, schools are expected and encouraged to provide all pupils/students, to the greatest extent possible and in a meaningful way, with opportunities to participate in Irish language and cultural activities at a level appropriate to their learning needs.

8. What is meant by a significant and persistent learning difficulty?

Significant learning difficulties are those which are persistent despite ongoing intervention and review. In the context of this circular a student who is experiencing significant literacy difficulties to such a degree that their scores remain below the 10th percentile and who does not demonstrate improvement despite intervention is likely to require additional supports. Section 2.2.c.ii of Circular 0052/2019 (Primary Schools) and Section 2.2.c.i of Circular 0053/2019 (post primary) outline the types of evidence a school should have before consideration can be given to applying for an exemption from the study of Irish.

Special Educational Needs: A Continuum of Support provides further information and support for schools in this regard.

9. What is differentiation/ a differentiated approach to language learning?

Differentiation is a way of teaching in which teachers proactively modify curriculum, teaching methods, resources, learning activities, and student products in line with the identified needs of an individual and/or small groups of learners to maximize the learning opportunity for each learner in the classroom. The aim of differentiation is to ensure that the student can engage in purposeful and meaningful learning activities and to increase student motivation and enjoyment in order to support them in engaging with increasingly challenging tasks over time. Teachers should adapt teaching activities and resources in order that they build on the student’s identified strengths in response to need. Factors to consider when differentiating the curriculum include: differentiation by content; differentiation by process; differentiation by product, and differentiation by environment.

To effectively differentiate, consideration should be given to the distinctive characteristics and learning styles of individual students. In adopting a holistic approach to supporting a student with special educational needs through the continuum of support, schools should develop a Student Support File. The Student Support File assists schools in identifying an appropriate level of support and to document students’ progress in response to interventions to address identified needs as they change over time. Importantly, by facilitating parental engagement in planning for and reviewing the student’s learning, the Student Support File allows the sharing and development of understandings about the student’s learning styles, needs, experience, progress and achievement.

Schools are required to address a wide diversity of needs by providing a differentiated learning experience for students in an inclusive school environment. This is informed by the principles of inclusion and the benefits of bilingualism for all pupils/students that underpin the Primary Language Curriculum, the Framework for Junior Cycle (2015) and curricular provision in senior cycle. The Primary Language Curriculum is for children of all abilities in all school contexts. It recognises and supports pupils’ engagement with Irish and English at different stages and rates along their language-learning journey. It builds on the language knowledge and experience that pupils bring to the school. The Progression Continua in the Primary Language Curriculum provide a framework for teachers to identify the pupil’s stage of language development and to plan interventions that support the development of language skills and competences in Irish and in English in an integrated manner, emphasising the transferability of language skills across languages.

The specification for Junior Cycle Irish aims to consolidate and deepen the students’ knowledge, understanding, values and language skills supporting their personal, cognitive and social development. The learning outcomes presented in the specification apply to all students.

All pupils/students should be encouraged to study Irish and achieve a level of personal proficiency that is appropriate to their needs and ability.

Further information and support material on differentiation is available:

10. What is the time frame for monitoring a differentiated approach to language before an exemption may be granted?

There is no prescriptive time frame for monitoring a differentiated approach to language and literacy learning in both English and Irish. It is a matter for the school management to consider, in accordance with the principles of inclusion underpinning the Circular and in consultation with the pupil’s/student’s parent(s)/guardian(s), the class teacher, special education teachers and the pupil/student, if the evidence documented in the Student Support File shows significant and persistent learning difficulties over time. Further information for schools on this process is available in Special Educational Needs: A Continuum of Support.

11.  What tests should be used in considering an application for an exemption from the study of Irish?

Guidance on the selection of tests is available on the Department’s website in the document Guidance on Test Selection.

A discrete test is a standalone test which can be applied to an individual pupil/student to assess a single literacy skill – in this case a test of either Word Reading or Reading Comprehension or Spelling.

Note: A literacy attainment score at/below the 10th percentile in a discrete test of either Word Reading or Reading Comprehension or Spelling is only one aspect of the criteria to be taken into consideration when processing applications for exemption from the study of Irish in line with sub-paragraph 2.2.c of the Circulars.

12.  Is a test score at/below the 10th percentile in one test sufficient to grant an exemption from the study of Irish?

No.In addition to a test score at/below the 10th percentile in one test (Word Reading, Reading Comprehension or Spelling), the pupil/student must have reached at least 2nd class and must also present with significant and persistent learning difficulties despite having had access to a differentiated approach to language and literacy learning over time. Documentary evidence to this effect is required including a Student Support Plan detailing:

  • Regular reviews of learning needs as part of an ongoing cycle of assessment
  • Target setting
  • Evidence informed intervention and review, including test scores (word reading, reading comprehension, spelling, other scores of language/literacy) at key points of review.

13.  Is a psychological report or a report from an appropriate medical specialist recommending an exemption from the study of Irish sufficient grounds to grant an exemption from the study of Irish?

No. A psychological or medical professional’s report is no longer a requirement for granting an exemption from the study of Irish.

If a school receives an external report (e.g. from a psychologist, speech and language therapist (SLT), Psychiatrist, GP or other practitioner), this may be useful to help inform the school in relation to need and identify interventions, but is not the primary supporting document for granting an exemption from the study of Irish.

While an external report might recommend an exemption it is up to the school to decide if they have the evidence as set out in the circular, (ongoing support, response to intervention and current level of need as identified in school testing) when considering the exceptional circumstances in which an exemption should be granted.

14.  Is it necessary for the school to carry out the testing required or can this be done externally to the school?

The onus is on the school to consider their own testing and the pupil’s/student’s performance in school. While the school may have external evidence/report of a test result at/below the 10th percentile, it is up to the school to decide if they have the evidence of ongoing support, response to intervention and current level of need as identified in school testing when considering the exceptional circumstances in which an exemption may be granted.

Further information on selection of tests is available on the Department’s website: Guidance on Test Selection

Further support material for schools is available in Special Educational Needs: A Continuum of Support.

15.  Is a pupil/student who has an exemption from the study of Irish required to be excluded from the Irish class?

No. In line with the Department’s policy of inclusion, schools are expected and encouraged to provide all pupils to the greatest extent possible and in a meaningful way, with opportunities to participate in Irish language and cultural activities at a level appropriate to their learning needs.

If a pupil/student is exempt from the study of Irish they have the option not to exercise the exemption granted and to participate in Irish classes and/or examinations, without any loss of the right to exercise the exemption at a future time.

16. Is a pupil/student with an exemption from the study of Irish, also exempt from studying foreign languages?

Circulars 0052/2019 and 0053/2019 are for exemption from the study of Irish only. Where an exemption from the study of Irish is granted, it should not be interpreted as an exemption from the study of Irish and other languages.

In accordance with the Rules and Programmes for Secondary Schools (2004) and the Framework for Junior Cycle 2015, the study of foreign languages is optional. Any decision not to study a modern foreign language should be made carefully and following discussion between the student’s parent(s)/guardian(s), Guidance Counselor, SET teachers and school principal.

17. Is a student with an exemption from the study of Irish, also considered exempt from Foreign Languages for 3rd level entry purposes?

3rd level entry requirements are a matter for the individual institution.

Some 3rd level institutions may waive a foreign language entry requirement in the case of a student with an exemption from the study of Irish. Parents/guardians/students should familiarise themselves with such 3rd level entry requirements and any implications which may arise due to the holding of an exemption from the study of Irish.

18. What are the implications for a pupil/student of not studying Irish?

Irish language requirements for entry to third level courses/programmes of study are at the discretion of the relevant colleges and universities. These requirements may be subject to change and it is therefore important that students/parents are aware of such requirements. Information on third level entry requirements can be accessed on relevant college/university websites. Typically, at post-primary level, guidance teachers have access to this information.

It is important that parents/guardians and pupils/students are made aware that Irish is an entry requirement for access to programmes for initial teacher education (primary) offered in the four state funded Higher Education Institutions.

Information on entry requirements to these primary teacher education courses is available at https://www.education.ie/en/Education-Staff/Information/-New-Teachers/-Initial-Teacher-Education-ITE-Primary.html

19. Can I appeal the school principal’s decision not to grant me/my child an exemption from the study of Irish?

The school principal, on behalf of the board of management, has the authority to grant an exemption from the study of Irish in accordance with the criteria set out in the Circulars. The school principal must follow the procedures set out in the Circulars and in the Guidelines when considering an application for an exemption.

If the parent/guardian or student over 18 years of age is not satisfied that the school principal has followed the correct procedures in making a decision to refuse to grant an exemption from the study of Irish, then the parent/guardian or student over 18 years of age can complete an Irish Exemption Appeal Form setting out the specific reason(s) why the decision is being appealed and the circumstances in which it is considered that the process has not been correctly applied.

The completed Irish Exemption Appeal Form should be submitted within 30 calendar days from the date the decision of the school not to grant an exemption was notified in writing to the parent(s)/guardian(s)/student.

An Irish Exemption Appeal form can be submitted by e-mail: Irishexemptionappeal@education.gov.ie or by post to Schools Financial and Database Section, Department of Education and Skills, Cornamaddy, Athlone, Co. Westmeath, N37 X659.

20. Can an application for an exemption from the study of Irish be made on behalf of a pupil/student who is enrolled in an Irish-medium school?

No. The Circulars apply only to recognised English-medium primary and post-primary schools.

21. Can schools that are participating in the Gaeltacht School Recognition Scheme grant an exemption from the study of Irish under the terms of Circulars 0052/2019 and 0053/2019?

The Circulars are for implementation in English-medium schools only.

It is acknowledged that the Gaeltacht School Recognition Scheme is currently supporting some participating schools that are in the process of transitioning from being English-medium schools to being Irish-medium schools. Where a school that is participating in the Gaeltacht School Recognition Scheme reports, for instance on POD or P-POD that English is the medium of instruction in the school, the school may apply the terms of Circular 0052/2019 or 0053/2019 as relevant.

22. Can a pupil/student who is home-schooled or attending a school which is not a recognised primary or post-primary school be granted an exemption from the study of Irish?

The Circulars for exemption from the study of Irish are for implementation in the case of pupils/students who are enrolled in recognised primary and post-primary schools. A pupil/student who is home-schooled or enrolled in a school which is not recognised cannot therefore be granted an exemption from the study of Irish under the terms of these circulars. All children educated in Ireland, including those who are home-schooled, are expected to have had the opportunity to study Irish to an appropriate standard. The Department has provided guidance on this matter in the document: ‘Guidelines on the assessment of education in places other than recognised schools’ available on the Department’s website; https://www.education.ie/en/Publications/Education-Reports/Guidelines-on-the-Assessment-of-Education-in-Places-Other-Than-Recognised-Schools.pdf