The Irish language is accorded special status in Ireland and is protected by various pieces of Legislation and in particular Article 8 of our Constitution which states that “The Irish Language as the national language is the first official language”. The Education Act 1998 recognises the particular responsibility of the education system with regard to supporting the Irish language. The language has particular social, historical and educational importance and is part of the unique cultural heritage of the Irish people. It is an aim of Government to increase on an incremental basis the use and knowledge of Irish as a community language.
In recognising the linguistic, social and cultural importance of Irish and English in Ireland, both languages are included as core subjects in the national curricula for recognised primary and post-primary schools and centres for education in Ireland. This has been the case since the foundation of the State and the importance of the teaching of both languages in this way has been re-affirmed on a number of occasions by the State, including most recently in the 20-Year Strategy for the Irish Language 2010-2030. Indeed, the most recent curricular changes at primary and junior cycle level have emphasised not only the importance of learning both languages but also the wider benefits of bilingualism. The development of these new language curricula reflects my Department’s reassertion of its commitment to the Irish language and to progressing the language education related actions of the 20-Year Strategy for the Irish Language 2010-2030.
It is also the policy of the Department of Education and Skills is to provide for the inclusive education of children with special educational needs in mainstream education, other than in circumstances where it would not be in the best interest of the child, or the effective education of children with whom they are to be educated.
The National Council for Special Education (NCSE) has responsibility for coordinating and advising on the education provision for children nationwide and has well established structures in place for engaging with schools and parents. Nationally, 167 new special classes opened this school year, which means there are 1,618 special classes in place, compared to 548 in 2011. Of these 1,355 are ASD special classes, including 133 ASD Early Intervention classes, 852 Primary ASD classes and 370 Post Primary ASD classes. Provision in our 124 special schools has also increased from 6,848 placements in 2011 to 7,872 this year. The NCSE has planned a further expansion of special class and school places nationally for next year.
New circulars on the topic of exemption from the study of Irish came into effect on the 1st of September 2019 whereby applications for an exemption may now only be considered in exceptional circumstances. Those circumstances are specifically set out in Section 2.2 of Circulars 0052/2019 – Primary and 0053/2019 – Post-primary. Decisions on the granting of exemptions from the study of Irish were devolved to school management in previous circulars 12/96 and M10/94 and this remains the case in the current circulars. Apart from these exceptional circumstances, Pupils in special schools and in special classes in mainstream schools are considered to be exempt for the study of Irish without the need for parents to apply for an exemption or for the holding a Certificate of Exemption. Children who, under previous circulars, were granted an exemption from the study of Irish, continue to be considered as exempt from the study of Irish. In line with the Department’s policy however, all schools are expected and encouraged to provide all pupils, to the greatest extent possible and in a meaningful way, with opportunities to participate in Irish language and cultural activities at a level appropriate to their learning needs.
Apart from the circulars, The Department of Education and Skills has provided guidelines and FAQs on exemptions from the study of Irish on our website, which will provide further information to parents and schools who may have questions regarding exemptions from the study of Irish. These can be accessed here: www.education.ie/en/Parents/Information/Irish-Exemption/.
Any student who does not meet the criteria for an exemption from the study of Irish should be provided with a differentiated approach to language learning and any other supports in accordance with Guidelines for supporting pupils with Special Educational Needs in Mainstream Schools and with Special Educational Needs: A continuum of Support. Also available on the Departments website: www.education.ie/en/The-Education-System/Special-Education/.