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Irish-language schools conference to look at impact of `nurture’ groups

March 15, 2017

IRISH-language educators from north and south will gather this week to examine issues including the experience of the `nurture’ approach to schooling.

Comhairle na Gaelscolaíochta, the representative body for Irish-medium education in the north, will hold its annual conference on Thursday in An Carn, Maghera.

It is expected to attract delegates from schools across Ireland as well as representatives from Irish language, educational and cultural bodies.

Speakers will contribute on various subjects including new electronic resources for Irish-medium education and the Irish-medium experience of the nurture approach.

Nurture groups work to improve social, emotional and behavioural outcomes among children from some of the most deprived areas.

Scoil an Droichid in south Belfast and Bunscoil Bheann Mhadagáin in the north of the city started operating nurture groups last September.

The concept has been widely developed across the UK to address identified behavioural needs within schools, offering a safe and welcoming environment to promote learning and positive behaviours.

They are recognised as playing a key role in tackling under-achievement early in a child’s life by providing targeted support.

Hundreds of children – from P1 to P3 – benefit from extra help in special facilities that are typically equipped with kitchens, sofas, and quiet rooms.

The Centre for Evidence and Social Innovation at Queen’s University Belfast last year published a report into the impact of the units in primary schools.

It found clear evidence that nurture group provision was “highly successful in its primary aim of achieving improvements in the social, emotional and behavioural skills of children from deprived areas exhibiting significant difficulties”.

Also due to speak at An Carn is Feargal Mac Bhloscaidh from Coláiste Feirste, who will present on extended writing, and Seán Fennel from Gaelscoil na bhFál who will deliver a workshop on language support at Key Stage 2.

In addition, Tracey McGovern from Middletown Centre for Autism will address pressing questions around special educational needs (SEN), and two newly-formed Irish-medium SEN cluster-groups will lead a session for SEN coordinators.


Irish schools ‘preferential treatment’ claim rejected

April 6, 2016

IRISH language education campaigners have rejected DUP claims that the sector enjoys preferential treatment.

In its assembly election manifesto, the DUP promised to deliver equality for all sectors.

This would involve “tackling the preferential treatment of Irish medium in school build”.

It would also include the abolition of the Catholic teacher training certificate as well as “a fairer and better funding formula for schools”.

Sinn Féin has been in charge of education since 2007 but it has been suggested a unionist party may select it next time.

The singling out of Irish-medium schools in the DUP’s manifesto, however, has prompted some to now say Sinn Féin might opt to hold education again.

Campaigners dismissed the claims of preferential treatment as “nonsense”.

Education minister John O’Dowd has made three major capital announcements totalling more than £500 million. Two of the 18 schools first selected to benefit were in the Irish-medium sector.

P1 enrolments in Irish-medium schools have grown from less than 400 to about 650 over the last six years and the overall population of the sector has also increased.

This growth has bucked the trend of declining numbers within the English-medium sector generally, and means that the needs within Irish-medium are now significantly greater in terms of new buildings.

While there is proportionately higher expenditure on Irish-medium schools, the state of many buildings in the sector compare unfavourably to those elsewhere.

There was unionist anger this year when Mr O’Dowd announced that a small bunscoil in Co Fermanagh was to move onto the site of a former secondary school that was shut down due to low pupil numbers.

Lisnaskea High School also had a debt that was spiralling out of control when it closed.

UUP MP Tom Elliott and DUP assembly member Peter Weir were among those who raised concerns that part of the former school would be used to accommodate bunscoil pupils.

Mr Elliott criticised minister John O’Dowd and said Lisnaskea High had more than three times the number of pupils as the Irish-medium school moving into the building.

When Bunscoil an Traonaigh moves onto the site later this year, it will be in mobile accommodation rather than inside the building itself.

Pilib Ó Ruanaí, chief executive of Iontaobhas na Gaelscolaíochta, the trust for the Irish-medium sector, said many schools were housed in temporary accommodation.

“There has to be some improvement. In terms of there being preferential treatment, it simply is not true. There is a robust process,” he said.

“In Lisnaskea, the school is moving onto a site that was declared surplus to requirements three to four years prior.

“All of a sudden it becomes an issue. The protocol is the same for every school – it looks at issues of sustainability, existing accommodation, area planning – it is the same for all sectors.”

Ultach Trust fighting to maintain the work it does

February 13, 2014

I would like to respond to Newton Emerson’s article on Foras na Gaeilge’s plans to dismantle the Irish language core-funded sector in Northern Ireland (February 6).

He appears to give some credence to Foras na Gaeilge’s argument that much of the funding to the sector was wasted on salaries rather than services. What is at issue is not salaries versus services, but what services are provided and how well they are delivered. No-one would say that in the health service too much funding goes on salaries for doctors and nurses. Like all of the sector, my organisation, ULTACH Trust, spends as little time as possible on administration in order to maximise services. In recent years, Foras na Gaeilge’s increasing obsession with counting beans – often the wrong beans – has made this more and more difficult. We are not fighting for jobs, we are fighting to maintain the work we do.

I do not necessarily agree with his assessment that Sinn Féin has deliberately targeted the northern organisations. Although it has recently embraced the promotion of the Irish language on a cross-community basis, it is true that the party has not been a great fan of my own organisation in the past, and it may be that the party now wishes to distance itself from Pobal. But Altram, the Irish-medium pre-school organisation, provides a vital support service on the ground to the 40 or so Irish-medium preschools on this side of the border.

Sinn Féin is unlikely to have wanted Altram’s five underpaid, highly qualified and dedicated staff to be thrown on to the dole queue in July.

It seems to me that this was less a plot than a guddle and that the DCAL Minister and her advisers were asleep at the wheel.

Director, ULTACH Trust


Disaster for Irish Language

January 30, 2014

The Decision to centralise Irish Language resources in Dublin has been branded as “disastrous” for the future of Gaelic in the North.

Foras na Gaeilge has been charged by the North South Ministerial Council to reorganise core funding for the 19 Irish language organisations. Seven of these are based in the north – but Foras na Gaeilge is so centralise its resources around six Dublin-based organisations from June 30.

Pobal, the advocacy organisation for the Irish language, has said the decision is a serious blow for the promotion of Gaelic in the north. Janet Muller, Pobal’s CEO said: “This will mean a loss of services and support for Irish speakers in the north. “Not one single organisation selected by Foras na Gaeilge is based in the north. “This means that they do not have the same local knowledge and experience at the heart of their policies and approaches. “This will have a fundamental influence on the development of the Irish language here.” The six directors of the six organisations to be funded will meet via a Foras na Gaeilge chaired forum to co-ordinate all provisions and services from Dublin. “There will be a massive drop in the authoritative , leadership and strategic roles for northern workers,” Ms Muller said.

“Even if a small number of people with northern expertise get jobs, it will be very difficult for them to determine or influence organisational policy, to negotiate with politicians and service providers or to structure a work plan according to the specific needs of the north. “All these things will be decided in Dublin. Pobal claim Foras na Gaeilge’s proposals will also severely damage the language throughout the country. “This has been a divisive and highly flawed process,” Ms Muller said. “The language in the north has come out of it very badly. “Pobal has always carried out coordination, research and project work on an all-Ireland basis. “But it is obvious that in the north the infrastructure is less developed, and the social, political and legislative position of the language is completely different from that in the south. “the effects of these decisions from Foras will be disastrous. “We urge the minister for culture, arts and leisure to intervene and make clear, detailed instructions as to how the damage from these proposals must be mitigated.”

The move comes as Europe’s leading human rights agency, the Council of Europe, claims that the promotion of the Irish language in Northern Ireland is being blocked by hostile attitudes in Stormont, as well as by a lack of support for its use in the courts and in education. The Council of Europe criticised attitudes to Irish in some official circles and what it said is the Stormont Assembly’s “persisting hostile climate”.

Caral Ní Chuilin, the minister for culture, arts and leisure, said she would bring in new legislation during the current assembly term. “There is a large body of support for an Irish language act in the north,” she said “As languages are now a devolved matter full legislation will require the agreement of the executive and assembly. “I hope that all supporters of the Irish language will work together to convince the executive the assembly and all our people of the merits of supporting an Irish language act.”