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Irish must come first in our country’s Gaelscoils

February 3, 2010

In my opinion: Irish must come first in our country’s gaelscoils.

The first time I saw Circular 44/07 I reacted with horror and disbelief in common with other gaelscoil principals and their school communities. I knew from the onset that I was prepared to do almost anything to have the circular withdrawn. This is because I firmly believe that early total immersion (ETI) education is the right approach having experienced it first hand as a pupil in Tallaght and later as an infant teacher and principal in Gaelscoil Nás na Ríogh. Although I do admit to a few sleepless nights, seeking a judicial review in the High Court seemed the most logical step to take by our Board of Management in order to safeguard the current practice and characteristic spirit of our school.

The announcement last month that the Minister for Education was to withdraw Circular 44/07 just a week before the hearing was met with widespread delight by all involved in the Gaelscoil and Irish language movement. I shared in this delight, of course, but was also cautious. I was not surprised when a statement was issued by the department announcing that the curriculum was to be proscribed. Our legal team had had discussions with the other side in the case and an agreement document had been forwarded to us. Whilst this document recognised ETI education favourably, one of the conditions of allowing schools to practice ETI education was that the schools would have to provide instruction in English for an infant pupil if a parent requested it. It would seem that this document will form the basis for the regulation and yet this document was rejected by all applicants in the case. I am still vehemently opposed to such a condition and see no resolution to the question if this condition remains.
It seems contradictory that the minister will, on one hand, support ETI and then allow a parent who has chosen a gaelscoil for their child not to do the same. Practically, does the minister intend to provide extra teachers and resources to teach English if a parent requests it in every gaelscoil in the country? More importantly, ETI is part of the characteristic spirit and ethos of Gaelscoil Nás na Ríogh. It is what we do and it is our responsibility and honour to uphold the same. If a parent wishes a child to learn English and Irish from the outset, he/she is free to enrol them in any of the excellent English medium national schools but if they enrol their child in a gaelscoil they must trust that the internationally proven and researched practice of delaying teaching in the non-target language is to the benefit of their child. In any case, all strands of the English curriculum, except for oral language, are met by the Department’s own excellent Irish language programme ‘Seideán Sí’.

I also believe that if this condition is included, a precedent is being set which should send shivers down the spine of the whole education system where the whims of one parent can result in a kowtowing by the department and schools being forced to change their characteristic spirit. For example, if the tables were to be reversed, would parents on my waiting list for junior infants who cannot be accommodated be justified in demanding that another local school provide ETI for their child?

Irish Independent
03 Feabhra 2010