12 August, 2019 - Minister McHugh announces new criteria for granting exemptions from the study of Irish

New circulars for implementation in primary and post-primary schools from the start of the new school year


The Minister for Education and Skills Joe McHugh T.D. has today (Monday August 12) announced new criteria for schools to grant students an exemption from studying Irish.

Following an extensive public consultation earlier this year on draft revisions to the system, revised circulars for primary and post-primary schools will take effect for the 2019/2020 school year.

The revised circulars will be issued in September and will replace existing rules on exemptions which date back more than 25 years.

Minister McHugh said: “An overhaul of the system for granting exemptions from the study of Irish is long overdue. By making key changes the system will be fairer and more supportive of students while at the same time ensuring that all children have equal access to study the Irish language.”

The public consultation on the issue of exemptions, which ran from December 7th 2018 until January 18th 2019, saw an unprecedented response with 11,109 individuals sharing their views.

Minister McHugh said: “There was a phenomenal level of interest in the public consultation. That is why I took the decision to extend it further into the New Year. The majority of people who engaged with it supported the changes being proposed. I believe the new criteria are fair and balanced and that the new system of exemptions is more up to date with teaching practices and support models and helps to remove ambiguity around exemptions.”

Key changes in the revised circulars include:


  • The new criteria will only apply in English-medium schools.


  • Students in special schools or special classes attached to mainstream schools will not be required to apply for an exemption.


  • Psychological assessments will no longer be necessary to process an application for an exemption.


  • Students will be granted an exemption from the study of Irish only in rare and exceptional circumstances.


  • Age-related criteria for decisions on exemptions are being changed from 11 years of age to 12, which brings the circular into line with the final year of primary education.


  • The decision to grant an exemption will continue to be made by the school principal.


  • The decision should only be taken following detailed discussion with the student’s parent or guardian, teacher, special education teachers and the student.


Minister McHugh said: “The decision to grant an exemption from the study of Irish should not be taken lightly. It is an important decision that will have implications for the student’s future learning. The benefits of bilingualism and studying a language from a young age are becoming better understood with studies showing it helps mental agility, makes it easier to learn a third or more languages and that it can help support a child’s academic achievement in other subjects like Mathematics.

“I would like to thank all of those who responded to the public consultation process which helped greatly to inform the finalisation of the circulars.”

The new circulars together with detailed guidelines will be issued to schools in the coming weeks and will be available on the Department’s website at the start of the new school year.



Notes to Editors

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


The language of instruction in the school

The 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 to access the rest of the curriculum.


Special schools and special classes 

The 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 in the case of students:

  1. whose education up to 12 years of age (or up to and including the final year of their primary education) was received outside the state
  2. who were previously enrolled as recognised students in primary schools and 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 the student is at least 12 years of age on re-enrolment. 


Students with significant learning difficulties

The revised circular sets 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 second 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 or spelling 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 revised circulars make provision for the appeal of a school’s refusal to grant an exemption from the study of Irish. The Minister will establish a panel of persons with expertise in children’s learning from which a Process Appeals Board could be drawn, as an interim measure, subject to review of operation after two years. This would allow the new processes to bed down pending the enactment of the Parent and Student Charter Bill. It is envisaged that the Process Appeals Board would meet twice a year to consider cases which could not be resolved at school level. The Board would be formed from a panel comprising relevant experts such as Inspectors/former Inspectors, psychologists/former psychologists from NEPs and educationalists (e.g. from Higher Education Institutions).   



The Department is committed to reviewing the operation of the revised circulars in two years to ensure that they are being implemented as intended and to review any issues or ambiguities which may arise during that period.


Response to the Consultation


The final report on the public consultation on exemptions from the study of Irish will also be published on the website in coming weeks.


  • Some 11,109 individuals responded to the survey between December 7 2018 and January 18  2019. Some 95% of responses were in English.


  • 57% reported being parents; 41% teachers; 17% students.


  • Written submissions were made by 24 organisations and 125 individuals. The organisations represented five broad stakeholder groups – parents, teachers, school management, universities, Irish language and disability and special needs.


  • Department officials held meetings with two organisations – Foras na Gaeilge and Dyslexia Association of Ireland – following requests to discuss submissions further.