The primary school curriculum 1971 did not recommend a particular time allocation for the teaching of Irish. However, an allocation suggested at some inservice courses, which recommended five hours weekly for Irish in first to sixth classes, was widely accepted. No distinction was made between the pupil's first and second languages in this recommendation.
The introduction to the primary school curriculum, 1999, provides a suggested minimum weekly time framework. For the first time, a period of discretionary curriculum time, two hours per week for pupils in first to sixth classes, was included. This time can be allocated at the discretion of the teacher and the school to any of the subjects on the curriculum, including Irish, in response to children's needs in particular areas of learning. The inclusion of discretionary curriculum time meant that the recommended times for most of the other subjects was reduced.
In addition, the primary school curriculum distinguishes between the first language and the second language of teaching and learning. It suggests four hours for the formal teaching of Irish in the case of Gaeltacht and Irish-medium schools in first to sixth classes and three hours and thirty minutes for the formal teaching of the subject where Irish is taught as a second language. The curriculum also strongly recommends that Irish be used frequently in classroom interactions and communication and as a medium for teaching some aspects of the curriculum other than Irish in English-medium schools to reinforce the knowledge gained in formal Irish lessons and to provide opportunities to use the language in real situations.
No major scientific study of the standards of pupil achievement in Irish has been published since Dr. John Harris's work, "Spoken Irish in Primary Schools", appeared in 1984. However, a significant study of pupil achievement in Irish in sixth class, commissioned by my Department, was carried out by the Educational Research Centre in 2002 and its results are awaited. The number and percentage of candidates taking the higher or honours paper in the established leaving certificate for the past three years were as follows: 2001, 15,719 or 30.93%; 2002, 14,901 or 30.36%; and 2003,15,102 or 30.31%. The percentages of candidates receiving grade C or better were as follows: 2001, 79.20%; 2002, 83.80%; and 2003, 80.30%.
Entry requirements for admission to third level courses are generally set down by the relevant higher education institutions. However, my Department specifies the entry requirements for entry to colleges of education. The entry requirements specify that all candidates, including school leavers, mature students and university graduates must have a minimum of a grade C in higher level Irish in the leaving certificate or an approved equivalent. The relevant courses are the Bachelor of Education degree course and the Graduate Diploma in Education, Primary Teaching.