04 January, 2019 - Record level of public interest in consultation on exemptions from Irish in schools

Minister for Education and Skills Joe McHugh T.D. extends consultation period

Minister for Education and Skills Joe McHugh T.D. has announced that record numbers of submissions from the public have been received to the consultation on exemptions from the study of Irish in schools.  Over 2,100 responses had been submitted to the online survey by the week before Christmas and further responses have continued to be received.  This is one of the largest ever responses to a consultation of this kind by the Department of Education and Skills.

“I am delighted to see this huge level of interest in the consultation on the granting of exemptions from the study of Irish,” Minister Joe McHugh said. “It’s an indication of how important an issue the teaching of Irish is for many, many people, and how strongly people of all ages feel about the teaching of our national language.”

Launched by the Minister on 7 December 2018, the consultation is seeking views on the way students can apply to be exempted from the study of Irish in schools.  Research published by the Department’s Inspectorate last year showed that the current rules, which date back to the 1990s, were not working and were not aligned with the current arrangements for granting additional resources to children with special educational needs in schools. As part of the consultation, Minister McHugh published new draft arrangements and the consultation is seeking views from the public on these proposals.  The proposals and survey are available at https://www.education.ie/en/Parents/Information/Irish-Exemption/

“The online survey is designed to be easily accessible and enable members of the public to submit their views on the proposed changes in a convenient and simple way,” said Minister McHugh.  The survey asks respondents to indicate whether they ‘Strongly agree’, ‘Agree’, ‘Disagree’, or ‘Strongly disagree’ with several key aspects of the proposals and it includes an option to provide additional written comments.

“I think the level of participation in the survey shows the success of adopting a simple and straight-forward approach when asking the public about their views,” said Minister McHugh.  “I am delighted that over half of respondents (56%) who had submitted responses before Christmas had also opted to provide additional comments.”

“Given the high level of interest in the survey, I have decided to extend the closing date by a further week to Friday, 18 January 2019,” Minister McHugh said.  “Officials in the Department’s Curriculum and Assessment Policy Unit are also happy to receive further written information from any individual or organisation if they would like to supplement their online submission.”

Queries on the consultation or additional submissions can be directed to a dedicated e-mail: consultation_exempti@education.gov.ie

“I will use the outcomes of the survey to amend and finalise the arrangements for exemptions, so I would encourage students, parents, teachers and everyone interested in the language to take part. Clearly, it will take a number of weeks to analyse the data and comments that we are receiving, but I am determined to improve the current situation as soon as possible for the next school year,” said the Minister.


 Notes for Editors

 Links to documents

The Consultation Paper launched by the Minister (including the new draft circulars) is available here Consultation Paper on the Future Direction of Exemptions from the Study of Irish

The survey can be accessed here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/Irish_Exemption

The Inspectorate Research Report on Exemptions is available here: Review of Policy and Practice in Relation to Exemptions from the Study of Irish

Queries on the consultation or additional submissions can be directed to a dedicated e-mail: consultation_exempti@education.gov.ie

Further information and access to all documents are available at: https://www.education.ie/en/Parents/Information/Irish-Exemption/ 

What changes has the Minister made today to the consultation?

Minister for Education and Skills, Joe McHugh T.D., launched the public consultation seeking the views of stakeholders on the future direction of the granting of exemptions from the study of Irish on 7 December 2018. Originally, the closing date for submissions was 11 January 2019.  Today’s announcement extends that closing date to 18 January 2019.

The consultation contains both survey-type questions and an option to make additional written comments. The online consultation limited the comments to 120 words. The Minister has clarified that additional written information may be submitted to a dedicated email address in his Department:  consultation_exempti@education.gov.ie

Why is the consultation taking place?

Current arrangements for the granting of exemptions from the study of Irish are set out in Department circulars issued in the 1990s.  Understanding of children’s learning, and especially children’s special educational needs, and the advantages of bilingualism have developed deeply in the interim.  When the consultation was launched, the Minister stated that 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.

What are the current arrangements for exemptions?  Why do they need to be changed?

Under circulars written in the 1990s, the authority to grant exemptions from the study of Irish was devolved to schools.  In 2016, just under 1% of pupils in primary schools (5,358 pupils) and a little over 9% of students in post-primary schools (32,483 students) were exempted from the study of Irish.

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.

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.”

What is involved in the consultation?

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.

The consultation is designed to collect views from 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.  The aim is to ensure that the revised circulars will 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.