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Ill-Advised Decision of Minister For Education and Science Regarding The Immersion Education System In Gaelscoileanna

July 31, 2007

The Minister for Education and Science’s announcement on 26 July 2007 with regard to the practice of immersion education in the State’s Irish-medium primary schools has been received with dismay and disappointment by GAELSCOILEANNA TEO. and by Irish-medium schools throughout the country in view of the disregard of expert and comprehensive advice. The decision taken by the Minister is such that Irish-medium schools will be compelled to formally teach English by the beginning of the second term of junior infants at the latest. This decision has been made in the absence of an agreed state policy on immersion education.

This decision dismisses the on-going success, values and high standards achieved throughout the immersion education system in Ireland. A decision of such profound consequence should be one based on comprehensive, native, scientific and academic research results as opposed to one based on speculation and partial testing in one particular school, or even in a small number of schools.

The Minister’s decision highlights ambiguity and a lack of understanding of the foundation, approach and requirements of the immersion education system. It is not a question of whether or not pupils of Irish-medium schools enjoy the full advantages of the English curriculum, which is implicit in the system, but rather what is the most appropriate stage to formally introduce English literacy, while giving full effect to the immersion education system. The comparison drawn between the compulsory teaching of Irish in English-medium schools and the teaching of English in gaelscoileanna is futile and unreasonable.

It is important to remember that the Irish-medium schooling system is a system of parental choice, and one that is founded on agreed policies and collaboration with parents. It is vital that the level of awareness of the system is increased to ensure widespread understanding of the fact that all of the outcomes of the English curriculum are achieved fully during the primary school cycle, as well as additional and complementary outcomes of the immersion education system. The main principle of immersion education centers on a necessary period of full immersion for the development and acquisition of the Irish language.

Interested parties, including GAELSCOILEANNA TEO. as well as advisors of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA), were invited to present and to submit advice to the Minister on this issue. Emphasis was placed on the basic necessity of immediate implementation of the recommendations of the NCCA, as well as the advice of linguists and educational experts. The urgency of a comprehensive and accurate audit of the practice of the sector was reiterated to the Minister as was the urgent need for the appropriate testing of competencies in English of Irish-medium primary education. In the words of GAELSCOILEANNA TEO.’s Chief Executive, Bláthnaid ní Ghréacháin, "It appears that the demands for the strengthening of the sector are being overlooked, for example through appropriate testing tools and resources, and instead the basic foundation of the system is being jeopardized through placing a restraint on the period of early immersion in the Irish language. One term in junior infants does not suffice for pupils to fully benefit from immersion education".

GAELSCOILEANNA TEO.’s President, Mícheál Ó Broin stated that, "the sector is being condemned for adopting a so-called ‘à la carte’ approach to the practice of immersion education, a criticism which would have no basis should the recommendations of the NCCA be adopted and thus allowing for the research into four models as a starting point.

The Irish language sector on the whole has expressed its anger and frustration at this unwelcome decision as it contradicts the State’s own policy on language preservation, in that it places a barrier on the most effective way of promoting the language in this country, that is through the medium and practice of total immersion education. The research and best-practice acknowledges the total immersion system as the most effective way of second language acquisition.


The truth of the matter is that no evidence exists to support the contention that the immersion system is not a successful one or that children of gaelscoileanna are at a disadvantage in relation to English language proficiency. In fact, the opposite has been documented, but unfortunately this decision would remove the necessity for a comprehensive and scientific programme of research which would further highlight the positive outcomes and high standards achieved by the system.

We demand of the Minister, on behalf of the sector, that any decision directly affecting the future of the Irish-immersion system be based on the results of native and comprehensive research and that the recommendations of the NCCA be implemented immediately to ensure the continued valuable work in the development of best-practice guidelines on immersion education.

GAELSCOILEANNA TEO. is the national co-ordinating body for schools teaching through the medium of Irish. It helps parents and local groups to set up new schools and supports the established all-Irish schools. There are 163 primary schools and 38 secondary schools currently providing education through the medium of Irish. Four new Irish medium primary schools will open in September 2007 as well as four post-primary schools.


Further information:

Bláthnaid Ní Ghréacháin 01 4773155

Mícheál Ó Broin 087-9467700