07 December, 2018 - Minister McHugh invites views on the future direction of policy and practice in relation to the granting of exemptions from the study of Irish in primary and post-primary schools

Minister publishes a Consultation Paper: The Future Direction of Exemptions from the Study of Irish which includes draft revised circulars for primary and post-primary schools 

Minister for Education and Skills, Joe McHugh T.D., today launched a public consultation seeking the views of all stakeholders on the future direction of the granting of exemptions from the study of Irish. 

Recognising the linguistic, social and cultural importance of our national language, Irish is a core subject in the national curricula for recognised primary and post-primary schools and centres for education.

This has been the case since the foundation of the State and the importance of the teaching of Irish has been re-affirmed on a number of occasions by the State, including most recently in the five year Action Plan for Irish 2018 - 2022.    

Current arrangements for the granting of exemptions from the study of Irish are now almost 25 years old. Our understanding of children’s learning, and especially children’s special educational needs, and the advantages of bilingualism have developed deeply in this time.

As new language curricula and other educational reforms are implemented, it is now timely to reflect on more appropriate arrangements to support the teaching and learning of Irish and English while at the same time, accommodating all children in an inclusive learning environment.

Under circulars written in the 1990s, the authority to grant exemptions from the study of Irish was devolved to schools.

Research on the practice of granting these exemptions has highlighted difficulties experienced by school principals in interpreting and implementing the terms of the circulars. This has given rise to confusion and a lack of consistency in their application and instances in which exemptions are incorrectly granted.

In addition, the research highlighted, for instance, that categories of special educational needs that are not mentioned in the circulars and associated conditions are frequently cited as grounds for exemption. Some students with exemptions from the study of Irish continue to study a modern foreign language for State examinations.

In launching the consultation process, Minister McHugh said: “There have been many changes in Ireland over the last 25 years, both in society in general and across the education system.  We need to ensure all our children are given the opportunity to engage with our native language and culture in accordance with their ability.”

The Consultation Paper includes draft revised circulars for primary and post-primary schools which present key proposed changes to the processes, circumstances and criteria for granting exemptions from the study of Irish. Stakeholders’ views are invited to respond to these proposed changes in an online survey. 

Minister McHugh added:  “The Department of Education and Skills values the input from the public in the development of policy and particularly welcomes views from all those involved; pupils and students, parents/guardians, teachers, school management, teacher unions and professionals involved in supporting educational provision as well as members of the wider public. Revised circulars should remove ambiguity around exemption processes and practices and result in a fairer and more equitable application of the criteria for exempting pupils/students from the study of Irish.”

The consultation process will continue until close of business on Friday 11th January 2019.  


Notes for the Editor 

  • The research report Review of Policy and Practice in relation to Exemptions from the study of Irish and 
  • The Consultation Paper: The Future Direction of Policy and Practice in relation to Exemptions from the Study of Irish and 
  • The Survey 

are all available at: https://www.education.ie/en/Parents/Information/Irish-Exemption/ 

The online survey is presented in two parts: 

  • Part 1 invites participants to respond the key proposed changes and 
  • Part 2 invites respondents to submit their views more generally on aspects of the proposed revised circulars. The results of this consultation process will inform new circulars under which exemptions from the study of Irish at primary and post-primary level will be permitted.


Key proposed changes in the draft revised circulars on exemptions from the study of Irish 

  • The language of instruction in the school

The draft revised circulars are for implementation in English-medium schools only as students enrolled in Irish-medium schools and settings need to engage in the study of Irish in order that they can access the rest of the curriculum.

  • Special schools and special classes

The draft revised circulars state explicitly that students in special schools or special classes attached to mainstream schools will not be required to apply for an exemption. The autonomy and discretion of the school authorities in tailoring the curriculum to best meet the needs of individual students continues to be recognised.

  • The circumstances in which exemptions may be granted and associated criteria

The age-related criteria have been changed from 11 years of age to 12 years of age in the case of students:

       a. whose education up to 12 years of age or the final year of his/her primary education was received outside the State

       b. who were previously enrolled as recognised students in primary schools who are being re-enrolled after a period spent abroad, provided that at least three consecutive years have elapsed since previous enrolment in the State and that are at least 12 years of age on re-enrolment.

  • Students with significant learning difficulties

The draft revised circulars set out that an exemption may be granted in circumstances where students present with significant learning difficulties that are persistent despite having had access to a differentiated approach to language and literacy over time. In such instances, an application for exemption may be considered when a student has at least reached third class and at the time of the application for exemption presents with a Standardised Score on a discrete test in Word Reading or Reading Comprehension at/below the 10th percentile.

  • Psychological Assessments

Average/Above Average IQ is no longer used as a diagnostic specifier. Based on the draft revised circulars, psychological assessments will no longer be necessary to process applications for exemption from the study of Irish.

  • Appeal mechanism

The draft revised circulars make provision for the appeal of a school’s refusal to grant an exemption from the study of Irish at local level.