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Eighty children to miss out on Gaelscoil as waiting list soars

January 23, 2017

A Gaelscoil in Co Kildare will be unable to provide school places for almost 80 children next September, due to huge numbers enrolling at the school.

Scoil Ui Riada in Kilcock, Co Kildare, has approximately 56 places for next September; however, 52 of those places have already been reserved by siblings of current pupils.

This leaves just four places for new families in the school, as the waiting list hits 130 children. The school has been oversubscribed since 2013, with parents fighting each year for extra places.

In previous years, the school has been granted extra places to accommodate as many children as possible.

However, this year the Department of Education and the school’s patron, the Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin, are insisting that there should only be two streams rather than three. There are four other schools in the area for families to choose from, but parents are adamant that they should have the right to educate their children through the Irish language.

Brendan Shalvey has had his daughter on the waiting list to attend Scoil Ui Riada since she was nine months old but fears that she will not get a place in September.

“It turns out that there are people who have been there from about three months old.

“We want Irish to survive, we want Irish to thrive and we want it to be a living language.”

Parents’ Committee member Eimear de Faoite says the fight for extra places at the school is lasting from spring to September each year. “At this stage, there is a precedent that parents here wish for their children to be educated through Gaeilge,” she added.

Seamus O Muirithe, principal of Scoil Ui Riada, told the Sunday Independent that he supported the parents.

“Unfortunately, at the moment, we are bound by other decisions made by the Department of Education.

”These decisions do not allow us to give parents what they would like in relation to education through the medium of Irish.”

The school’s patron, Bishop Denis Nulty, declined to comment. Last week, Minister for Education Richard Bruton revealed that he intends to tackle school admission policies that give preference to Catholic children. The changes will prevent Catholic schools from exclusively selecting children who have been baptised for admission.

Meanwhile, the Education (Admissions to School) Bill is currently making its way through the Oireachtas.

The bill will mean that waiting lists for schools will be banned, which is intended to alleviate pressure on parents with children attending oversubscribed schools.

Sunday Independent

Parents, not priests, driving segregation

March 2, 2015

The Irish Times blames religion for segregating Irish children. What about Gaelscoileanna

The movie about Stephen Hawking, for which Eddie Redmayne won an Oscar, is called The Theory of Everything. That’s because Hawking solved a big problem in physics by unifying the theory of big things (space) and the theory of small things (atoms) into one single theory. In physics, this was apparently, a very good thing.
Sadly, when theories of everything are applied to society’s big problems, they aren’t such a good thing. The Irish Times’ theory of everything sees religion as the unifying rot behind Ireland’s ills. This is a terrible theory. Religion has been the cause of many problems, but when religion is all you can see it becomes a black hole into which all complex problems disappear, and from which no solutions can emerge.

The resulting blind spot was exposed spectacularly last week in a major profile regarding the segregation of Irish primary school children. A survey showed that four-fifths of immigrant children are being educated in just over a fifth of our schools. This means there are many schools with no or very few immigrant children, while others have huge numbers. Apart from the sadness of having children so starkly segregated, this presents significant challenges for those schools trying to shoulder the burden of educating children who might need extra support. What’s behind this segregation?

Geography is a rather obvious cause, since immigrant populations settle in particular urban areas and indeed the Irish Times analysis referred to this. But there’s more to it than that, because an Educate Together principal Tom Moriarty was quoted as saying that: “There are schools in Dublin existing side by side where one is almost completely international in nature and the other is exclusively Irish.”

So what’s going on there? The analysis quickly zeroed in on religion. Schools use religion as a method by which immigrants could be discouraged from attending. When they run out of places, only Catholics need apply. What’s the solution? Catholic schools need to “divest” themselves of their patronage of so many schools. Thus, free from the stifling control of priests, schools could open their gates to the Nirvana of multi-culturalism. We were reminded that this divestment process has crawled along without much progress for years.

The astonishing thing was that nowhere, no matter how many times I read Pamela Duncan’s article, could I find the word “Gaelscoil”. How could any credible analysis of segregation in primary schools be conducted without even mentioning the most substantial barrier to entry for immigrants – the Irish language? Parents have many legitimate reasons for sending their children to Gaelscoileannna, but motive is irrelevant if it’s the net effect that concerns us. The reality is that in many towns and urban centres, the immigrant kids are at the local national school under the benign patronage of the much maligned Catholic church, while up at the Gaelscoil, free from the critical eye of the Irish Times or anyone else, you’ll struggle to find a black child.

So in one Dublin national school they have a huge cross-section of children from Europe, Africa and Asia. Just 35pc of the pupils are Irish. A short distance away at a Gaelscoil 99pc of the pupils are Irish. But the commentariat can’t takes its eyes off those infernal priests and their discriminating schools, while under the radar, the self-selecting families in the Gaelscoileanna sail along blissfully free of moral challenge.

I’m not saying those families are doing anything wrong – they’re entitled to their choice – but why don’t they merit a mention? Yet of the 14 schools in the survey with more than 66pc of pupils from a non-Irish origin, the majority – eight – were old-fashioned national schools under Catholic patronage. The rest were Educate Together, many newly built in new suburbs like Adamstown.

Since the analysis is flawed, so is the suggested solution. If religion is the problem then wresting schools away from the Church is the answer. In fact, the real problem is the obsession of Irish parents with the choice to which they believe themselves so entitled. They’d have heart failure if they were presented with a system like Finland’s.

In the 1990s Finland experienced a deep recession. With a similar population size and distribution to Ireland, they made massive education cuts, closing 1,000 out of 4,000 primary schools. They funnelled all pupils into one school in each town. It saved them a pile of money, but by channelling resources into those single schools, they ended up with high standards which are the envy of Europe. (They did other stuff too but, alas, space prevents me from elaborating).

Could you imagine if you took those Gaeilscoils, two-teacher rural schools, private and religious schools away from Irish parents? The revolt would make the water charges protest look like a teddy bears’ picnic.

I think a single-school policy is the correct one; morally, socially and economically. But it’s parents not priests who are the major obstacle. If you’re going to fight a war over segregation in schools, identifying the real problem is a good start.

Sunday Independent


Take away the school, kill the local community

February 27, 2012

Education cutbacks are a death sentence for rural villages, Jerome Reilly finds in Trumera, Co Laois

For Liam O’Neill there can be no surrender. He believes the battle to save the country’s primary schools and their teachers is part of a larger conflict — a fight for the survival of rural Ireland.

The school principal at Scoil Naisiunta Thromaire, a small Irish-speaking national school in Trumera in rural Co Laois just a few miles outside Mountrath, is also the incoming GAA president.

He believes the education cutbacks contained in the Budget austerity plan, which will increase the number of pupils needed for the retention of teachers, is tantamount to a death sentence for many small parish communities.

And, despite last week’s slight softening of the planned cuts by Education Minister Ruairi Quinn following howls of protest in every constituency, Mr O’Neill is convinced that it is those who live in the country who are paying the heaviest price since the downturn hit. The fear now is that, over the next three years, schools will be under pressure to keep their teachers each September.

Minister Quinn has come under immense pressure from rural members of his own party, including a number of senators, and Fianna Fail Education spokesman Brendan Smith said the minister was trying to give the impression that he had rowed back on cuts at small schools when he had not.

“Essentially, the Government has announced that small schools facing cuts can appeal these cuts if they can prove their pupil number will rise significantly over the coming years. This is nothing more than an attempt to take the heat out of the anger about this unpopular Budget measure,” he said.

For Liam O’Neill the question is not about economics. “Small communities like ours are anchored by their national schools. Take away the school from a place like Trumera and the community no longer exists. The GAA club would inevitably fold as well,” he said.

His roots in the school run deep. His father was also headmaster, and his mother’s aunt was school mistress before that. His family have given the school more than 100 years of service. He looks at what happened to the nearby hamlet of Kilbricken, which was once a hive of activity.

Kilbricken station, on the Dublin to Cork line, opened in 1848 but closed for goods traffic in 1975, and finally closed altogether in 1976. The Kilbricken Inn, which also served as a shop and post office, is now shuttered and the national school, a fine building with old-fashioned stone outhouses, is deserted and derelict.

The words of Goldsmith’s The Deserted Village come to Mr O’Neill — a poem he has taught to a few generations of youngsters in Trumera.

But times are altered; trade’s unfeeling train

Usurp the land and dispossess the swain.

“The numbers in any national school will fluctuate. The fact of the matter is this community suffered a hit in the Seventies. There were three national schools in the parish but two of them are now closed,” he said.

“We now look out across the green fields and see the traffic of the country passing us on the N7. We have the noise pollution from that. We know it represents progress of a sort, but has life improved for this community with the closing of Clonard school, Kilbricken school, the post office, the pub and the train station?”

Learning support teacher Laura Martin and her colleague Fiona Boyle take the youngsters through their lessons. At playtime the children converge in the school playground with their hurls and helmets — a beacon of life during the day, when most parents work away from the parish. Only two families in the 2012 roll call at the school are full-time farmers.

Labour Senator John Whelan has led the charge against the cutbacks in rural national schools. “My serious concern is that this was viewed as purely a teacher numbers issue by Minister Quinn and his officials. It has to be viewed in a broader context,” he said.

“As originally envisaged, it would have had a devastating impact on the sustainability of life in rural ireland. Schools are integral to the viability of communities, especially in the context of increased emigration, increased unemployment and the loss of Garda stations, post offices and a raft of other community hubs. It can’t be all about book balancing. We have to look at the social consequences. If we lose schools in September this year, the following year or the year after, it will lead to rural depopulation and rural dereliction. We won’t just have ghost estates, we will have ghost villages.”

Despite the apparent U-turn on the issue, it now looks as though some parts of the country will still be devastated, especially in the West.

In Galway East — a constituency that hasn’t returned a senior minister in living memory — eight schools are affected. Roscommon-South Leitrim also has eight schools facing teacher cutbacks; Longford-Westmeath has six schools under threat; and Donegal South West, five.

Labour Senator John Kelly from Roscommon told the Sunday Independent he was deeply concerned that from a per head of population perspective, “Roscommon seems to have got the greatest hit, with eight schools under threat of losing a teacher.”

He added: “I am not happy about that. I believe that by purely assessing the savings involved we forget the social and economic benefits small schools are to rural areas. I am years campaigning for fair play for rural Ireland and I will continue to push the Minister for Education to give a degree of leniency to schools that may lose a teacher over one or two pupils.”

Senator James Heffernan is also unconvinced that the threat to rural schools has receded. “Although the minister has said that there is an effective appeal procedure in place, I believe that the changes this year are the thin end of the wedge. As a former teacher, it is my view that the changes next year and the year after will have the potential to be devastating for rural life in Ireland. Should schools lose teachers and be forced to close down, it would be the last straw for life in rural Ireland,” the senator said.

“In Co Limerick there are around 60 schools with four or fewer teachers. These schools are the heart of their communities. If they were to be lost, it would be a major societal blow for those communities and parishes and indeed to the future of organisations like the GAA which is organised on parish lines.”

Meanwhile, Enda Kenny’s political heartland of Mayo which is the third largest county, but only 15th in terms of population, has just four schools affected.


Why forcing Irish on all makes most of us gag

March 21, 2011

MOST people are fairly impressed with the way our new Taoiseach is getting off the mark on tackling various pre-election issues.

But at least one of his policy proposals has already been spectacularly abandoned. That’s the promise to remove the compulsion to take Irish as a Leaving Certificate subject.
In one way it’s easy to see why Mr Kenny dropped the idea like a hot potato: the squawks, yells, huffs and puffs were deafening… all delivered in English, of course, as is the wont of the language police when they’re saying something they want understood; no sense protesting in our sacred native tongue, since the majority of people would neither hear nor understand. Their yelling was so deafening that Fine Gael probably thought the issue could lose them the election. So they listened to the travellers on the Irish language gravy train rather than to the population at large: and dropped the policy.

An Coimisineir Teanga, Sean O Curreain, whose office was set up to implement the provisions of the Official Languages Act, issued his annual report last week. It contained records of 700-odd complaints from people who found themselves unable to conduct their business through Irish with State departments. The Coimisineir was particularly pained because according to the last Census of Population, he points out, there are 72,000 people in Ireland who use Irish “on a daily basis”. I find that a fascinating statistic. Because another statistic from the report shows that only 1.5 per cent of the administrative staff of the Department of Education could provide a service in Irish. When you put those two statistics together, it would seem that the department has been singularly unlucky in being unable to find employees with a working knowledge of the language. Or could it be that the 72,000 people who use it “daily” are a figment of somebody’s imagination? Maybe even their own? After all, as Mr O Curreain himself points out, young adults are leaving school after having completed 1,500 hours of language tuition over a 13-year period … and they still can’t speak or write Irish.

We have just completed our annual hypocrisy fest called Seachtain na Gaeilge, in which everyone is “encouraged” to use what Irish they have. But despite being out and about as much as the average Irish citizen, I didn’t hear a solitary word of Irish spoken. In fact I, who cannot speak, write, or understand Irish, spoke the most Irish I heard last week: twice, in the company of friends, I said “Slainte” as I raised a glass. I frequently say that, because I don’t like “Cheers”. If that makes me one of the 72,000 Irish people who use the first official language “on a daily basis” we’re even more delusional and hypocritical than I believed.  Admittedly, listening to and watching RTE during Seachtain na Gaeilge, you’d think that the entire country was going around with its collective nose stuck in a copy of Buntus Cainte or whatever the current text book is. But then RTE follows the official line, so presumably it shares Coimisineir O Curreain’s delusion that there are 72,000 bi-lingual people in the country. (There may well be, but Irish isn’t one of their two languages.)

I remember a well-known broadcaster who doesn’t go in for hypocrisy telling me on one occasion that his then teenage children demanded that he enter them on the Census form as Irish speakers, because they thought “it was a nice thing to be”. He refused, not being one to tell lies on official forms, and he knew very well that they couldn’t construct a sentence between them. Maybe his honesty was less than universal, and that’s why the census listed 72,000 people who use Irish “daily”.  The bullying response to the Fine Gael proposal to make an act of faith in the Irish people as having a genuine fondness for the language, was both sad and interesting. The Nationalist Thought Police howled with one voice that it would be a death knell. So this core of our national beating heart will die out unless it’s forced on people? Nobody will opt willingly to learn this beauteous tongue? But haven’t we been told for generations that a love of the language was one of the markers of what made us Irish? And didn’t thousands, nay, millions of us suffer dungeon, fire, and sword to speak it? Or was that the Rosary?

What was really happening when it looked as though Fine Gael might actually have the courage of its convictions, was a convulsion among the people who’ve been on the financial pig’s back for years thanks to the compulsory nature of Irish in the education system and the public service. I used to feel guilty about my cynical belief that the various Mna na Tithe in the summer Irish schools were probably down on their knees storming heaven for their teenage visitors to be found uttering a forbidden English word. Because the kids are sent home in disgrace… but their fees aren’t refunded. Nice little money-making scam, I thought. And I was right: the language police even came out and admitted it: the Bean a Ti would be out of business, they shouted; under the Fine Gael proposals nobody would study Irish if they didn’t have to, much less visit the Gaeltacht during summer holidays. I recall receiving a letter on another occasion when I wrote about linguistic hypocrisy, in that case the outrageous expense involved in having all EU documents translated into Irish as an “official language” of the Community. My letter came from a civil servant. Who did I think I was, he wanted to know? He knew people who had terrific jobs with terrific salaries: they were official translators of documentation into Irish. It was their full-time job.

Enda Kenny (with his immaculate Irish, and obvious love of the language) and Fine Gael generally, were clearly naive even to imagine that they could square up to the sacred cow of the Irish language. If they’d stuck to their guns they would certainly have lost the votes of those who are making a load of money out of the language. But the sad thing is that Mr Kenny didn’t have the wit to realise that these people may shout a storm, but they’re ridiculously few in number. Effectively, the breaking of the Fine Gael promise is chickening out on an opportunity to revive the language. Because it hasn’t occurred to any of them that the language isn’t the problem: it’s having it shoved joylessly and leadenly down people’s throats that makes it hated. And yes, let’s tell the truth: there are more people out there who loathe Irish than love or speak it. And it’s compulsion that did it.

Sunday Independent – Emer O’Kelly

Irish: if we really care about it, let’s stop the pretence

February 14, 2011

Six out of 10 parents, according to new research, think children should be tortured daily. Or forced to learn Irish up until Leaving Cert, to give the practice its official name. The survey? Oh, that was carried out on behalf of Comhar na Muinteoiri Gaeilge, a support organisation for Irish language teachers.

That's a bit like using a survey by the Babar Institute to claim that six out of 10 people who visit the zoo think elephants should be given more sticky buns.

As it happens, I don't believe a word of it. That is, I believe 61 per cent of parents claim to want Irish to remain compulsory, in the same way that people, if asked by pollsters, would express a desire for less rain, or for Dart carriages to smell of hollyhocks and freshly baked bread. I just don't believe that so many parents actually care that much about the subject, since, if they did, they could make a greater effort to use Irish with their children in their own daily lives.

In fact, I'd go further. If you're not making the effort to speak Irish regularly, then your advocacy of the language carries no more weight than the views of a deaf man on how loud the juke box should be played in bars. It's just another example of the tendency to heft responsibility for doing the right thing on to other people's shoulders whilst carrying none of the burden oneself.

Same goes for Irish teachers. If the maintenance of Irish as a compulsory core subject is so dear to their little Gaelic hearts, then they should start teaching it better. That way, it might come to be seen as something worth fighting to preserve, rather than a drain on a curriculum already weighed down with pointless distractions.

The battle is definitely on. Fine Gael has already committed itself at the national level to ending compulsory Irish at Leaving Cert — a policy which hasn't gone down well in the Gaeltacht, where they've been raking it in for decades making children miserable in their wretched summer schools. Labour's never exactly been keen on the language either, perhaps in revenge for the fact that culchies still refuse to vote for it in the same numbers as Dublin 4 metrosexuals.

If the defenders of Irish language teaching want to keep the gravy train going, they'll have to fight back with something more robust than a poxy survey and a few pious platitudes. Fail, however, and they'll only have themselves to blame.

There certainly can be no other subject which is so badly taught. (OK, maybe maths, but let's not go there right now.) Most of the adult population of this country spent five hours a week learning Irish from the moment they first stepped through the gate in primary school, to the moment they fell out of a nightclub, drunk, on Leeson Street after celebrating their Leaving Cert results, and afterwards it all simply vanished from their heads in a puff of indifference. If German lessons were made compulsory for one single week at the age of 14, more Irish adults in their 20s and 30s would still know what gesundheit and apfelkuchen meant than would be able to follow an episode of Ros Na Run without peeking at the subtitles.

Partly this is to do with the manic obsession in the education system with written, as opposed to spoken, Irish, which means that a child who gets her spellings right is valued by the examining authorities more highly than one who speaks fluently but keeps dropping all those pesky fadas.

They've had Irish the wrong way up from the start. The only thing that matters to the survival of a language is an ability to speak it to a certain level of fluency. Once that happens, spellings and fadas and grammar all fall into place — and even if they don't, the gain is still greater than the loss.

Everyone knows this. A couple of years ago, comedian Des Bishop spent some months in the Gaeltacht, immersing himself in the language to perform a stand-up routine. He came back to Dublin, fired with enthusiasm about pepping up the teaching of Irish. Watching him being given a patronising brush off by Mary Hanafin, then Minister for Education and a former teacher herself, was excruciatingly embarrassing.

This is what happens to anyone who has new ideas in Irish education. They either get so frustrated at the slow pace of change that they flee in despair, or else they succumb to complacency like all the others. Teachers never want to change. Even now, with the survival of Irish as a core subject under serious threat, they're still taking refuge behind the great Twenty-Year Plan which is supposedly going to transform teaching as Gaeilge in the next generation — presumably in the same way that Stalin's Five- Year Plans transformed Soviet farming, ie by making things worse.

It's only delaying the inevitable. The country's problems are so severe that any incoming government is going to have to make radical changes in education sooner rather than later, or watch impotently as Ireland drops further behind the rest of the world. We've smugly lied to ourselves for years about having a widely envied education system, but the recession has brutally exposed all our institutions as unfit for purpose — the bloated public sector, of which our schools form a major part, not least. If we don't change fast, we're sunk. Simple as that.

Meanwhile, here's looking forward to a survey asking parents what they think of those endless holidays and Mickey Mouse staff training days off enjoyed by teachers. Bet Irish teachers won't be so keen to publicise the results of that survey.

Eilis O'Hanlon, Sunday Independent

Walsh urges halving Irish language budget

October 18, 2010

The amount of time spent teaching Irish in schools should be slashed and ‘smart economy’ subjects such as maths, science or even Chinese should be taught instead, according to an influential educator.

Dr Edward Walsh, founding president of the University of Limerick, has proposed that the EUR1.2bn a year spent on teaching the Irish language in schools should be halved. Dr Walsh is advocating that half the resources should be diverted into teaching pupils international languages, particularly Chinese, French and German. Dr Walsh, a well-known critic of the Department of Education’s policy on the national language, has frequently proposed making Irish compulsory for only three years, making room on the curriculum for other languages.

Furthermore, he suggests that within the narrower spending limits reserved for teaching Irish “we should broaden the teaching of the language to include Irish culture. But let those who are not enthusiastic about Irish drop out after primary school. We should bring them to the well.”  Big business and multinationals have also been pushing for changes in the way the future workforce is educated. “Our Irish education system is one of the great, enduring achievements of the 20th century. It was designed to prepare students for success in a burgeoning industrial world economy, and it did its job well.

“But a 21st century services-and-knowledge-based economy has altered the landscape, and it requires different skills and ways of learning,” says IBM’s Irish boss Peter O’Neill, who highlighted advances in data sharing in the US, web-based learning in China and Germany as key advances in education.  Dr Sean Baker, chairman of the Software Association and one of the founders of Iona Technologies, believes that while Irish shouldn’t be singled out more attention needs to be focused on maths. “It is more important than some of the other individual languages because it is analytical. It is not language-based or learning-based but thinking-based. We need these skills to build the smart economy,” he said.

Exam results figures published by the Department of Education reveal that far more of our top students are taking Irish ahead of the other subjects needed to fuel the smart economy plan supposed to rescue the country.  The latest figures show that last summer more students sat Leaving Certificate Irish than the combined number of students sitting maths, applied maths and physics. Some 14,650 students sat honours Irish with just 14,480 doing either maths, applied maths or physics.
In 2009 more students sat the higher level home economics exam than higher level maths.

Sunday Independent – Shane Ross and Nick Webb
17 Deireadh Fómhair 2010