There are no immediate plans to introduce Irish Sign Language or Lámh as part of the primary curriculum but the inclusion of languages (including modern languages) will be considered as part of the current primary curriculum review. A Draft overview of the Primary Curriculum is due to be available for consultation by the end of 2019.
As part of the Junior Cycle programme schools may offer students the opportunity to take a small number of short courses. These courses are assessed through Classroom-Based Assessment, and are reported upon to parents/guardians and students by the school. The delivery of the short courses is dependent on resources available in individual schools and can vary from school to school.
A new short course in Irish Sign Language (ISL) has been prepared by the Post-Primary Languages Initiative (PPLI) under the remit of my Department. This 100 hour course is based on the Generic Short Course in Modern Languages, which was also developed by the PPLI using the new Framework for Junior Cycle (2015) and the Junior Cycle Short Courses Draft Handbook 'Developing Short Courses in Junior Cycle' prepared by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA). The course provides the 'learning statements' and key skills which all short courses are based upon. In this course, the emphasis is on developing communication skills in ISL at level A1 on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR). Schools can choose to provide this short course as part of their Junior Cycle programme. A link to the course is available at: http://languagesinitiative.ie/images/ISL/MFL_Gen_Spec_ISL_28_May__Short_Course.pdf
In addition to the short course, Irish Sign Language is an option for students who undertake the Leaving Certificate Applied. There is also an opportunity for students to learn Sign Language in the course of Transition Year. ISL is currently being considered as part of the development of the primary languages curriculum.
I wish to advise the Deputy that my Department provides for an extensive range of supports to assist pupils and young persons with special educational needs, including children who are Deaf or hard of hearing, to ensure that children can have access to an education appropriate to their needs.
Special Needs Assistants (SNAs) are allocated to primary, post-primary and special schools to assist schools in addressing additional care needs so as to facilitate inclusion of students with special educational needs. SNAs can assist in providing access to peer interaction and curriculum participation for pupils who have a hearing impairment and who communicate through sign language or specialist training (Braille, Lámh, Sign Language, Augumentive/Alternative Interventions). They may also assist in the care and preparation of audiological and assistive technology equipment.
The National Council for Special Education (NCSE) allocates a quantum of SNA support for each school annually taking into account the care needs of all of the qualifying children enrolled in the school, and on the basis of the assessed care needs of the children, rather than solely by reference to a pupil's disability categorisation.
The criteria by which SNA support is allocated to pupils is set out in my Department's Circular 0030/2014. The Circular explains that schools should ensure that SNAs who work with Deaf and hard of hearing children are equipped with the skills necessary to support the particular needs of these pupils, where required.
The Circular also explains that, where existing SNA staff require specialist training, schools should ensure that the most senior SNA staff in the school are the staff that are trained in order to avoid a situation where staff trained in specialist skills may leave the school due to a reduction in the overall level of SNA support allocated to a school in future years.