Republic pupils opting out of Irish lessons to study foreign languages

Belfast City Hall is lit up in red lights in support of those campaigning for an Irish Language Act in Northern Ireland, on January 12, 2019. Photo: David Young/PA Wire
Belfast City Hall is lit up in red lights in support of those campaigning for an Irish Language Act in Northern Ireland, on January 12, 2019. Photo: David Young/PA Wire

Over 60% of pupils who get special exemptions from Irish lessons in the Republic are enrolling in other foreign language classes, it has been revealed.

Children with issues such as dyslexia or sensory issues can be exempt, however the Republic’s Department of Education found some pupils were being excused from compulsory Irish for reasons not officially recognised.

A report said that 32,483, or 9.2%, of post-primary students had exemptions from Irish in 2016. But it also found that 60.1% of Junior Certificate students in third year and 63.2% of Leaving Certificate students in sixth year with such exemptions were also studying a modern language such as French or German.

Some principals are claiming that parents are ‘cherry-picking’ private psychologists who would approve exemptions for disabilities not recognised in government circulars.

The department found that some psychologists indicated “they were coming under pressure from schools and parents to carry out assessments in support of exemptions despite this being inconsistent with best practice guidelines” the Irish Times reported.

It said there has been an increase in the number of pupils securing opt-outs on the basis of “stress or anxiety” linked to bedwetting, unwillingness to go to school and refusal to learn Irish.

Julian de Spáinn, general secretary of Irish language group Conradh na Gaeilge, said he is not sure if such parents are making economic judgments on the future value of Irish versus another European language for their children, but he said that research should be done into the question.

However, he said the proportion of children with exemptions but still studying foreign languages was “high”.

“A number of people have been looking for psychologists so their children don’t have to study Irish, but they are studying foreign languages instead,” he said.

“The reason for the growth in exemptions is that the system is broken and the Department of Education must fix it.”

There has been more of a focus in recent years on oral Irish, which has been helpful in this regard, but lessons must be learnt from European neighbours where learning languages is much more the norm, he said.

The Republic of Ireland and UK are at the bottom of language learning league tables, he said.

“Instead of exemptions the system should take into account the ability of students. Some students have problems with written Irish but not oral.” A similar system has worked successfully with maths, he said.

There are many opportunities for Irish in the European Commission and teaching in US, German and Polish universities, he said.