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Census shows we must rethink our approach to Irish and the Gaeltacht

April 10, 2017

There are now more ‘new speakers’ of Irish committed to the language than there are native speakers in the Gaeltacht

The 2016 Census returns, published this week, contain bad news for the Irish language, with a decline across all significant categories: daily speakers of Irish outside the education system and knowledge of and use of Irish in the Gaeltacht. The fall in the Gaeltacht is particularly dramatic – an 11 per cent drop in daily speakers outside the education system within the past five years – and provides further confirmation of the decline of Irish in its traditional heartland, a change which has been documented extensively in recent years.

Although the latest Census figures also illustrate a fall in daily speakers outside the Gaeltacht, that reduction, from 54,010 to 53,217 people, is very small (just over 1 per cent). There has also been an 0.8 per cent increase in the numbers of weekly speakers outside the education system, which probably include those who speak Irish well but lack opportunities to do so. This confirms another existing trend: that the numbers speaking Irish regularly outside the Gaeltacht, although small, are more stable than the equivalent figures from the Gaeltacht.

Research on these “new speakers” of Irish – fluent and committed speakers who were not raised with the language in the Gaeltacht – shows that some look to the Gaeltacht as the model, although it is declining, while others are attempting to create new models such as the recent Pop-Up Gaeltacht events around the country. This is a European-wide trend and is being explored by a European research network on “new speakers in a multilingual Europe”.

The network spans 28 European countries and looks at situations where minority languages (including Irish) are acquired by non-traditional means and in non-traditional settings. Researchers involved in the project have been looking at the role that “new speakers” play in the future of these languages. The project is led by Heriot-Watt University in Scotland and involves more than 28 partners from across Europe, including the National University of Ireland, Galway and the University of Limerick. In addition to Irish, other languages involved include Basque, Breton, Catalan, Galician, Scottish Gaelic and Welsh.

New speakers of Irish or other minority languages learn the language outside of the home, school, through adult-classes or other formal means. New speakers differ from simple learners in that they are committed to speaking the language on a regular basis and seeking out opportunities to use the language.

There are now more new speakers of Irish than native speakers. We have spoken at length with many such speakers from a range of backgrounds and from different parts of the country. They have different stories to tell but what they have in common is that they are deeply committed to the language. This is what makes them want to use the language and to put 13 years of school Irish into practice.

Some newcomers to the language have decided to model their Irish on traditional Gaeltacht varieties. This has sometimes been through dedicated self-study or visits to the Gaeltacht. Some new speakers idealise a traditional Gaeltacht variety and are can be critical of newer forms of “learner” Irish.

At the same time, some other new speakers see themselves as fluent Irish speakers and are less concerned with speaking with a Gaeltacht blas. Some even flaunt what they proudly refer to as “Dublin Irish”. Others still consider themselves “experts” in Irish. There are also some who lack confidence in terms of grammatical accuracy and fluency. We have seen a wide range of abilities. This is often linked to opportunities to use Irish and the amount of practice these speakers can get. There are some new speakers whose use of Irish does not go beyond their weekly ciorcal cainte at the local community hall or local coffee shop.

These speakers are often reluctant to engage in what they perceive as more fluent speakers. Nonetheless, they are committed to their weekly conversational groups which often involved heated debate about the Tuiseal Ginideach or irregular verbs. Newcomers to Ireland are also part of the mix and we also came across many new speakers of non-Irish origin. These speakers had often learned Irish to a very high level and are dedicated supporters of the language.

New speakers of Irish are not of course restricted to Ireland itself. We came across vibrant communities of Irish speakers at Irish Centres in the United States and online communities of language learners spanning the four corners of the world. This shows the extent to which Irish has moved beyond what we would normally think of as Irish-speaking areas.

Among new speakers, there is a strong sense of “becoming” and a desire to joining an existing group of regular Irish speakers who are committed to the future of the language. “Becoming” an Irish speaker can be a life-changing experience for people which can involve sending their children to a Gaelscoil or speaking Irish at home.

Although the teaching of Irish at school is often presented as a failure, we found that becoming an Irish speaker was often prompted by an inspirational Irish teacher. Whatever the reason though, becoming a new speaker of Irish requires a huge personal effort. Becoming an Irish speaker is a journey and for those who embark on that journey, there is always more to be learned.

Native speakers of Irish and their historical links to the Gaeltacht are an important part of new speakers’ consciousness. Some new speakers talk about tensions with native speakers. These speakers tend to have little interest in traditional Irish but will happily speak their own hybridised variety among themselves. Others forge strong links and friendships with Gaeltacht speakers, based on the common goal of promoting the use of Irish.

Most new speakers see themselves as having a role in the future of Irish. The 2012 Gaeltacht Act, while not without its faults, is the first recognition of the need to plan for Irish-speaking networks outside the traditional Gaeltacht. However the Census returns provide no evidence that the poorly-funded language planning process being rolled out in the Gaeltacht and elsewhere is having a positive impact.

Investment in community-based language planning, aimed both at the Gaeltacht and at new speakers, needs to be increased substantially for it to have any chance of success. The paltry sums allocated to the current 20-Year Strategy for the Irish Language fall well short of what is required. Indeed successive governments have shown themselves to be particularly apathetic on the language question; the Language Commissioner (Coimisinéir Teanga) recently published a damning indictment of the falling standard of public services in Irish rather than the progress envisaged by the Official Languages Act 2003. These Census returns are a stark warning that the continuous increase over recent decades in the numbers of those claiming competence in Irish cannot be taken for granted. It can only be hoped that they will be a wake-up call and lead to a more engaged and pro-active public policy that will recognise the needs of regular speakers of Irish throughout the country.

Dr John Walsh is a senior lecturer in Irish at the National University of Ireland, Galway. Prof Bernadette O’Rourke works in the Department of Languages and Intercultural Studies at Heriot-Watt University, Edinburg

Foinse: Irish Times

President marks foundation of State’s first Gaelscoil

April 7, 2017

Scoil Bhríde founder Luíse Ghabhánach Ní Dhufaigh first taught at Patrick Pearse’s Scoil Íde

 President Michael D Higgins joined 450 students and former pupils of Scoil Bhríde to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the country’s first Gaelscoil in Beechwood, Ranelagh on Thursday morning.

President Higgins placed a copy of a speech he delivered into a time capsule along with photographs and letters written by schoolchildren at the Gaelscoil.

The time capsule will be opened in 2067 when the oldest child currently in the school will be 62 years of age.

The school was founded by suffragist and nationalist Luíse Ghabhánach Ní Dhufaigh (also known as Louise Gavan Duffy) and Áine Nic Aodha with just a dozen students in 1917.

All subjects were taught through the medium of Irish.

Ní Dhufaigh, who was born and raised in Nice, first came to Ireland to attend the funeral of her father, Young Irelander Charles Gavan Duffy in 1903.

She returned some years later to study at UCD and met Patrick Pearse through Conradh na Gaeilge. She later taught at his school, Scoil Íde, in Teach Feadha Cuileann where she developed her own vision of education.

She was present in the GPO during Easter Week, 1916 and was a founding member of Cumann na mBan. She died in October 1969.

Originally housed in No. 70 St. Stephen’s Green, the school moved several times since its foundation and is currently located on Bóthar Feadha Cuileann in Ranelagh.

Souce: Irish Times

Primary school shake-up to focus on ‘play-led’ learning

March 29, 2017

Children would not study traditional subjects until aged 10, under new proposals

Children at primary schools would not study traditional subjects until as late as 10 years of age, under proposals being considered by policymakers.

Instead, there would be a much greater emphasis on creative play during the early years of primary school, and broader areas of learning in later years.

The reforms are based loosely on some of the features of top-performing education systems in countries such as Finland, as well as new research on how children learn.

The proposals, drafted by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA), represent some of the biggest proposed changes to teaching and learning at primary level in more than two decades.

They also seek to give teachers more flexibility and autonomy over the amount of time dedicated to key areas of learning.

Educators, policymakers and parents discussed the proposals at a conference in Dublin Castle on Tuesday as part of a consultation phase which continues until the end of April.

The existing curriculum was drawn up almost 20 years ago when fewer junior infants came from a preschool background. Today, 95 per cent of children starting school have come from a preschool.

A key proposal involves extending the preschool curriculum – Aistear – into the early years of the primary school curriculum. This could ease the transition for children entering primary school and form the basis for a child-led play approach to learning.

Proposed changes over the structure of the school day could see a minimum of 60 per cent of the school day set aside for teaching the core curriculum, such as English, Irish and maths.

The remainder of the school day would be designated as “flexible time” for roll call, assembly, breaks, discretionary curriculum time and the patron’s programme.

This would allow schools to spend additional time on the part of the curriculum which they feel best meets the needs of students. Controversially, it would result in religion being dropped from the core curriculum.

Another potential change involves a move away from traditional subjects in the early and middle phase of primary school, with a greater focus on themes or “curriculum areas”.

This is influenced by the fact that children are faced with studying 11 subjects when they enter primary schools, which some experts feel is too structured and may impede learning.

Exciting opportunity

In a keynote address to the conference, Fergus Finlay, head of the children’s charity Barnardos, said the new proposals represented an exciting opportunity to meet the full range of children’s needs at a younger age.

But he warned that its successful implementation will depend on ensuring it is backed up by resources and reform.

“Will every setting operate to the standard implied in the new curriculum? We know they won’t without resources. We know they won’t without some degree of standardisation. We know they won’t without structural change,” he said.

Concluding the conference, Minister for Education Richard Bruton said the proposals came at a crucial time for the education sector given rapid changes in society and the workplace.

He said the focus on improving the transition between preschool and primary schools was particularly important.

“The primary curriculum has been a real strength of our system over many years,” he said.

“We are now, hopefully, building on that strength, giving people more of the flexibility and capacity to be innovative with their use of that curriculum in their own setting.”

The NCCA is keen to emphasise that the proposals are intended to begin a discussion about the redevelopment of the primary curriculum.

A report on the outcome of consultations and a more detailed overview of a redeveloped primary curriculum is likely later this year, which will be the focus of further consultation in late 2017 and into 2018.


Dead or alive? New campaign tackles Irish language myths

March 16, 2017

List of ‘alternative facts’ includes claims language is dead and Gaelscoileanna are élitist

The Irish language is dead, Gaelscoileanna are elitist and Ireland would be socially conservative if we spoke Irish.

These are some of the assumptions challenged by a new campaign designed to debunk misconceptions surrounding the language.

Called Mythbusting, the campaign comprises a series of 10 videos and talks organised around the country by Colm Ó Broin, an Irish speaker and Conradh na Gaeilge member from Clondalkin.

Mr Ó Broin said he felt compelled to challenge these claims as as they arise whenever an article on the Irish language appears in the media.

The video series is being launched on Thursday to coincide with Lá na Meáin Sóisialta, a Seachtain na Gaeilge initiative encouraging the use of Irish and the use of hashtag #LNMS17 on social media.

The first myth tackled is the claim that Irish is a dead language. Mr Ó Broin says research data and census figures point to the exact opposite. “In terms of fluency, the Irish Language Survey carried out by Amárach Research in 2013 showed that almost 500,000 people across Ireland can have a conversation in Irish and another 150,000 have “native speaker fluency.”

“Even this figure would give Irish more fluent speakers than most languages in the world”.


The debate surrounding the Irish language renders the provision of bilingual education a hot topic, and while the ever-increasing demand for education through Irish continues to go unmet there are still critics who claim that such schools are elitist.

Pointing out that more than half of the primary-level Gaelscoileanna in Dublin and Belfast are situated in working-class areas, Mr Ó Broin says children from every social class in Ireland attend Irish-medium schools.

He contests the claim there is a racist motive behind the decision by parents to send their children to Irish medium schools.

“While there may be some parents who have this motivation – to stereotype all Gaelscoil parents as racists because of the actions of a few is prejudiced in itself.”

“Irish-medium education is available and welcoming to children from all backgrounds,” he adds.

For those who believe it is irrelevant in modern society and that Irish would make the country too insular, Mr Ó Broin says: “By this logic, more than 180 countries in the world would also be insular as they don’t speak English as their first language.

“Speaking Irish doesn’t mean you can’t speak English or any other language to interact with people from other countries. In fact, studies have shown that learning a second language increases tolerance.”

The next Mythbusting talk takes place on March 21st at 8pm in Gorey Library, Co Wexford. Other talks are planned for Galway on March 31st, Belfast on April 22nd and Derry on May 13th.

The following ‘alternative facts’ are addressed as part of the campaign:

1 “Irish is a dead language”

2 “Irish has taken lots of words from English”

3 “Ireland would be poor if we spoke Irish”

4 “Gaelscoileanna and other Irish-speaking schools are elitist”

5 “Ireland would be insular if we spoke Irish”

6 “Ireland would be socially conservative if we spoke Irish”

7 “The Irish language has been ‘politicised’”

8 “Irish shouldn’t be an official EU language”

9 “The pronunciation of Irish names makes no sense”

10 “Irish isn’t compatible with modern technology”

Físeán anseo/ Video here: https://youtu.be/XCEjILUJvFc


Why one of Ireland’s most famous schools is going Gaelscoil

March 14, 2017

Synge Street in Dublin 8 is turning to the Irish language to restore pupil numbers

t’s one of Ireland’s best-known schools, with an impressive roll call of past pupils such as Gay Byrne, Eddie Jordan, Eamonn Andrews and former president, Cearbhail Ó Dálaigh. It’s such a part of Irish culture, it even had a hit movie made about it.

Now the primary school of Dublin’s Synge Street is going gaelscoil – because all-Irish schools are what parents of children in the city centre want most.

Currently, Synge Street primary is an all-boys Catholic school that accepts children from second class up to sixth class.

But from September, it will introduce a new stream of co-ed pupils, starting at junior infants level, with pupils learning only through Irish.

This gaelscoil stream – or “sruth” – of boys and girls will run alongside, but separate from, the boys-only classes learning through English.

But the classes will be divided, even at break-times, to ensure the Irish-language students get full immersion in the language.

Principal Gerard Mooney says the introduction of the Irish stream is a unique development – Synge Street is the first school Ireland to do it.

He explains that the idea came about due to a combination of dramatic depopulation in Dublin city centre, combined with increased demand for all-Irish education.

“We’re taking an infant class this year for the first time, and they will learn through Irish. This is a unique approach in Ireland.

Inner city depopulation

“Depopulation in the south inner city has resulted in a significant drop in school numbers.

“One-third of our school population was from local areas that have been savagely depopulated and there are no plans to rebuild or regenerate. Prohibitively high rents have driven a lot of families out of the area.

“The demographic completely changed, due to the cost of houses and rent increases. It is very unfair on families.”

Synge Street primary – Sancta Maria – is a Catholic school that is part of the Edmund Rice Schools Trust. One of the tenets of its ethos is to reach out to needs in the community.

Mooney says the introduction of the sruth is in keeping with that principle.

“We are responding to the needs of the community. There are many parents in the area who want to educate their children through the medium of Irish, but the local gaelscoileanna in Harold’s Cross and Ranelagh were over-subscribed and they were disappointed.

“We did the research and found there was a significant need for a gaelscoil and we said: Let’s try this.”

With gaelscoileanna regarded as the school of choice for the elite, is the development a sign of changing times in the “city end” of Dublin 8?

Catchment areas like Portobello and the Tenters are increasingly middle-class enclaves.

Only high-earning couples with children can afford to live there. Is this what’s driving the change?

Mixed school

Mooney is aware it is a factor – but says what local parents really wanted was a mixed school that started at junior infant level.

Synge Street primary had been hand-tied by traditional church rules that meant the boys started only from second class onwards.

Prior to second class, pupils attend local convents for junior school up to first class, and then switch over to Synge Street.

But many parents were averse to the idea of moving kids from one school to another once they’d got settled. Others aren’t keen on single-sex education.

The middle-class preference for their little ones to be educated as gaeilge is just one aspect.

Mooney says of the driving force: “Every society has its microcosms. I’d say it’s 50/50. Half was those who wanted a gaelscoil and half who wanted a mixed school starting from junior infants.

“We had been restricted by the second- to sixth-class model that history and politics dictated, and we had to change the status of the school [to introduce the gaelscoil stream].

“There is a sense of resurgence of national identity, and the 1916 centenary had a big influence. It has broadened into a pride of language and has cast off some of our old attitudes. Parents want their children to be aware of their cultural heritage.

Cognitive ability

“The bonus of learning a second language early on is that it bumps up cognitive ability. People are prepared to go the extra mile for their children to have a good education.”

When the new junior infants arrive at Synge Street gates for the first time this September, it will be the result of Trojan work by Principal Mooney and the school.

“We are two years now getting to the point where we can offer this new stream to parents.

“First, I had to convince the Archbishop [Diarmuid Martin] and he supported us when he saw there was a crying need for branching out, while also supporting the needs of parents.

“Then we had to convince the Department of Education. We’re making the conversions and putting the facilities for it in place now.”

The maximum number of students in a class is 28, and with just over a month left until enrolment closes, the gaelscoil class is almost full.

Meanwhile in Synge Street boys-only primary, there is an average of only 12 boys per year.

Once one of the biggest schools on the city’s south side, the school, founded in 1864, educated broadcaster Mike Murphy, actor David Kelly, writer Flann O’Brien, oncologist John Crown and politician Liam Cosgrave.

There are now 60 students in the primary school, where in decades past, there were hundreds.


Dublin director John Carney’s film about Synge Street – a high-school comedy musical called Sing Street – put the school on the map internationally when it was released last year.

It featured Aiden Gillen and Jack Reynor, as well as newcomers Ferdia Walsh-Peelo and Lucy Boynton.

It was a feel-good fictitious tale that was part-based on Carney’s time as a student in the secondary school back in the 1980s.

The movie was nominated for a Golden Globe and portrayed Synge Street as a school where the kids were rough and the teachers were even rougher.

So: was it a good thing or a bad thing for the historic Christian Brothers school, which is over 150 years old?

The primary school principal Gerard Mooney takes it for what it is – a Hollywood version of reality.

Facts vs film

“It was grand, it was good craic. People have to understand that you must allow for licence. Never let the facts get in the way of a good story!” says Mooney.

“You just suspend disbelief and enjoy it as it is. There is a good part of the movie that is cultural memory and cultural stereotype.

“I see the men here retired and living in the house beside us and they are a different body of men you see personified in the movie.

“But it was good, we were delighted with it – and it’s an honour to have our very own movie. Mount Temple, where U2 went, didn’t get a movie – but Synge Street did!”


Irish-medium secondary schooling is increasingly popular

December 6, 2016

Benefits of bilingual education include enhanced creative and divergent thinking

One distinctive feature of the annually published schools data set is the proportion of Irish language schools that consistently rank prominently at the upper end of the tables.

This year, for example, three Irish-medium schools feature in the top 10 list of all secondary schools. Galway’s Coláiste na Coiribe comes at the very top of the list as the school with the highest rate of students progressing to third level.

Coláiste Íde, Dingle, is ninth in the list while Coláiste Eoin, Stillorgan, comes in at 10th. Add Laurel Hill Coláiste FCJ and four of the top 10 schools listed as non-fee paying schools also happen to be Irish-medium schools.

This apparent overrepresentation of Irish-medium schools in the feeder schools list seems to be out of kilter with their overall number. Of the 735 secondary schools registered with the Department of Education in 2016, just 48 are fully Irish-medium.

So why this overrepresentation? The benefits of bilingual education are well-documented and are clearly not lost on parents, many of whom are increasingly choosing this option for their children.

Decades of applied educational and linguistic research have deepened our understanding of the benefits of bilingualism and bilingual education. Bilinguals have been shown to be more flexible in their thinking and more adept at thinking about how they use language to make themselves understood. Bilingual speakers have also been shown to be more effective at creative and divergent thinking.

A 2011 study published by the University of Limerick found that learning mathematics through the medium of Irish at primary level may enhance long-term mathematical understanding and attainment in English-medium second-level education.

In 2014, a study of 18,000 Spanish-speaking students carried out by Stanford University in the San Francisco area found that students in classrooms taught in two languages not only catch up with their English immersion counterparts but eventually surpass them both academically and linguistically.

Literacy in the first language makes learning second and subsequent languages much easier. In Ireland, where English is the dominant societal language, interest in bilingual education continues to grow, as evidenced by a rise in enrolment at Irish language schools.

According to the latest data from the Department of Education and Skills, 24,668 students were registered as receiving their education through Irish at secondary level in 2015/2016.

This is an increase of 900 students on the 23,768 registered in the previous academic year.

Increasing interest

This increasing interest has also been recorded in wider society. Census data shows almost 1.66 million people, aged three years and over, were able to speak Irish in 2006 compared with 1.57 million in 2002. According to Census 2011, the number of people who declared they can speak Irish increased by 7.1 per cent since 2006.

Despite this growth in interest, the Irish language education sector faces barriers that are unique to it in the context of the wider education sector.

About 8 per cent of primary schools now teach through the medium of Irish while secondary schools that teach in Irish account for about 6 per cent.

Campaigners have long argued the school selection process is skewed against those who wish to make a case for new Irish-medium post-primary schools on the basis that they cannot numerically compete with English-language schools in strictly-defined catchment areas.

Caoimhín Ó hEaghra, general secretary of the Irish language patron an Foras Pátrúnachta says the biggest obstacle faced by the sector “is addressing the demand that we have for this type of education”.

“All parents want to provide their children with the best possible education. There is an increased understanding amongst parents that Irish-medium education provides children with academic, cognitive and social benefits that are unparalleled. These benefits coupled with students who become fluent as Gaeilge makes it a very attractive option,” he says.

Of the top 10 non fee-paying schools whose students progress to third-level education, four are Gaelcholáistí or Irish language schools. They are the aforementioned Coláiste na Coiribe in Galway, Coláiste Íde in Co Kerry, Coláiste Eoin in Co Dublin and Laurel Hill Coláiste FCJ in Limerick.


Fee-paying schools dominate high-points courses

December 3, 2015

Table-topping Coláiste Eoin in Stillorgan bucks trend as one of just three non-fee-paying schools in top 10 with high progression rates.

Fee-paying schools continue to dominate the tables showing how many students progressed to high-points courses in college.

What we have designated as high-points courses are those at the seven universities, the teacher training colleges such as Mary Immaculate College; plus the Royal College of Surgeons and DIT. Generally, courses in these colleges require a higher level of points for entry than other colleges, including some institutes of technology.

Fee-paying schools largely command the top 30 in this table. This has been an ongoing trend in The Irish Times Feeder Schools tables for a number of years. Given that the State pays for these schools’ teachers’ salaries, it leaves scope for the use of fees for educational resources and facilities that can greatly benefit their students’ education. Some fee-paying schools may also resist enrolling children with educational difficulties.

While the fee-paying schools dominate, a boys’ Gaelscoil in Stillorgan tops this year’s table. Last year Coláiste Eoin had a progression rate of 89 per cent (joint 15th) but climbed to first this year with a 115 per cent progression rate to high points courses.

This figure includes students who sat the Leaving Cert in Coláiste Eoin in other years, and then accepted a place on an undergraduate course this year.

Coláiste Eoin’s sister school, Coláiste Íosagáin, ranked joint ninth in this year’s table with Muckross College, Dublin.

Both schools have a high-points course progression rate of 96 per cent. These three schools are the only non-fee paying schools that cracked the top 10 list. Other schools in the top 10 are Gonzaga College at number two with 109 per cent, St Vincent’s Castleknock College at number three with 108 per cent and the Teresian School, which falls from first to fourth place, at 105 per cent.

Gaelscoileanna continue to do well in sending students to high-point courses. Seven Irish-speaking schools feature in the top 30 list. These include Coláiste Cois Life, Lucan, with 83 per cent; Gaelcholáiste na Mara, Arklow, with 78 per cent; Meanscoil Garman 73 per cent and Coláiste na Coiribe, Galway with 74 per cent.

A bilingual school, Coláiste Iognáid in Galway, takes the 19th spot with an 84 per cent progression rate.

These figures do not tell us specifically where the class of 2015 ended up. The progression rates detailed here include not only this year’s Leaving Cert students, but also students who previously attended the schools listed. They may have deferred their place, they may be going back to college as mature students, or they may have repeated their Leaving Cert in another school or a grind school.

Schools in university towns or cities tend to have a large proportion of their students opting to attend the local university. Cork, Kildare, Limerick and Galway schools feature in the top 30 list but are largely outnumbered by Dublin.

Only two schools in the top 10 are outside of the capital. These are Cistercian College, Roscrea, with a student progression rate on to high-points courses of 103 per cent (fifth); and Clongowes Wood College in Kildare with 97 per cent (joint eighth). Both are fee-paying schools.

Some non-university counties are listed in the top 30. These include Gaelcholáiste na Mara in Arklow with 78 per cent; St Peter’s College in Meath with 78 per cent and Loreto College Cavan with 72 per cent.

Kilkenny College with 77 per cent (joint 25th) also features.


USI calls on parents to send children to Gaelscoileanna

December 3, 2015

Bilingual students in second and third level with high ability in Irish and English outperformed their monolingual peers in mathematics, even when assessed through English – their second language of learning.

“The mental gymnastics needed to constantly manage two or more linguistic systems increases cognitive flexibility and makes learning easier,” said Dr Dora Alexopoulou from the Department of Theoretical and Applied Linguistics in the University of Cambridge.

Gaelscoil attendance continues to grow across the country with areas outside the Gaeltacht and in Gaeltacht areas recording increased numbers year-on-year. The number of pupils attending both Irish-medium primary schools outside of the Gaeltacht went from 33,205 in 2013/14 to 34,476 in 2014/15 and those receiving education through Irish in Gaeltacht areas increased from 7,347 in 2013/14 to 7,485 in 2014/15.*

“USI is encouraging parents across Ireland to consider sending their children to a Gaelscoil or a bilingual school,” Kevin Donoghue, USI president said.

Highlighting the advantages offered by the development of literacy in two languages, Mr Donoghue said bilingualism “has numerous positive effects for students including increased understanding of maths concepts and problem-solving, resistance to Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, and a greater cultural awareness.”

Julian de Spáinn, spokesperson for Conradh na Gaeilge, said all children should have the opportunity to be educated bilingually.
Mr de Spainn said bilingual education offers linguistic, educational, social, cultural and personal development benefits for children.

“Gaelscoileanna offer this form of education and we believe that there should be more Gaelscoileanna established to satisfy parent demand for this form of education as there is plenty of evidence that supply is in no way meeting the demand.”
* This article was amended on 03/12/2015


Feeder schools: Social class still drives school league tables

December 3, 2015

Gaelscoileanna and fee-paying schools dominate school rankings with the highest number of students graduating to third-level education, Irish Times figures published today show.

However, a number of schools outside this traditional group also rank towards the top of league tables, including community and non-fee paying schools. Coláiste Eoin in Stillorgan, Co Dublin, an all-boys gaelscoil, heads the overall rankings, followed by the fee-paying Cistercian College in Roscrea, Co Tipperary,

But Magh Éne College, Co Donegal and Coláiste Gleann Lí (formerly Tralee Community College) in Co Kerry appear in the top-five for the first time. Principals at these schools say a greater focus on empowering students to direct their own study, training for staff on new and engaging ways of teaching and closer links with third-level colleges are among the factors yielding dividends in better exam results.

Social class, however, remains a major factor in the performance of schools, especially in the Dublin area. Latest figures show students in more affluent areas in the capital are progressing to college at a rate of up to four time those in disadvantaged areas.

The social class divide is most obvious in the feeder school list for high points courses in universities and other third-level institutions.

Concern school divestment policy causing ethnic segregation

February 26, 2015

Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan is being urged to reverse plans to create “competing” school patrons at primary level amid claims that it is exacerbating ethnic segregation.
The plan to divest schools from Catholic patronage in order to boost parental choice was the main recommendation of the forum on patronage and pluralism set up by her predecessor Ruairí Quinn.
But Dr Dympna Devine, head of the UCD School of Education, said the policy is helping to “institutionalise segregation. That mightn’t be the intention but it is the outcome”.

She was commenting on data published by The Irish Times this week showing that 23 per cent of primary schools cater for four in five immigrant children. In 20 schools, more than two-thirds of pupils were recorded as being of a non-Irish background.

Dr Devine, who has studied the integration of immigrant children in education since the late 1990s, said “parental choice is fine but not everybody has the same resources, or the same local knowledge”.

She said there was an emerging phenomenon internationally of “bourgeois schools” impacting on educational policy. These were particularly evident in Wales, with Welsh language schools, and here with Gaelscoileanna, which had the lowest intake of both immigrant children and pupils with defined special educational needs.

“People are looking for something ‘added’ for their children’s education. If I send my child to ‘this’ school instead of ‘that’ I am exercising my parental choice but it’s based on my knowledge, expectations and sense of entitlement for my children,” she said.

“For immigrant parents, they are still figuring out the system. They tend to be clustered in a particular area with the lowest rental costs and they don’t have the same choice.”

Labour TD Joanna Tuffy, who chairs the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Education and Social Protection, also called for a rethink of the “divestment” policy.

“The idea of greater choice of patrons and divesting in order to facilitate that choice is the direct opposite of education being inclusive. We are essentially dividing children up and sending them to schools on various grounds that in practice are including religion, race, ethnicity, and socio-economic background,” she said.

“Also the idea is a nonsense in the context of town or village with one school. That school should obviously cater for all local children irrespective of religion.”

Ms Tuffy said schools in rural towns under Catholic patronage were generally inclusive, and “I don’t think it will be progress to move away from having most schools run by Catholic patrons to having those schools exclusively for Catholics, alongside schools exclusively for other faiths, Irish medium schools, Educate Together Schools and VEC Community Schools.

“I believe the objective should be over time to move to a state multi-denominational model bringing all stakeholders on board and in the meantime anything that can be done to make all schools more inclusive including via enrolment policy legislation should be done.”

Fianna Fáil Senator Averil Power, a committee member, said school patrons were generally very active in promoting inclusion, “the reason the Catholic Church wants to divest is because they want to make their remaining schools more Catholic, or as Catholic as possible.

“In a true republic, children of all ethnic, social and religious backgrounds would go to the same school.”


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