Méid an Téacs

O’Dowd’s Irish schools agenda causes concern

Lúnasa 1, 2013

IT was with alarm that I read a recent article in your paper entitled, ‘Benefit of Irish-medium education is there for all’, by Dr Micheal O Duibh.

In it, Dr O Duibh claims that “Irish-medium education offers a system which improves children’s skills in English and Irish, making them more tolerant.” I challenge the implication that children who do not learn Irish are somehow less tolerant.
However, more worryingly, his article demonstrates one of the threats to our education system: minister O’Dowd’s preference for Irish-medium schools. These schools receive more funding than other schools by virtue of teaching through Irish.
Elsewhere in our education system, Minister O’Dowd uses the argument that a school is too small to be viable. Not so with Irish-medium schools.
O’Dowd’s long-term plans for education across Northern Ireland must be exposed. This is to prevent the Northern Irish people sleep-walking into the Sinn Fein utopia of Irish-medium, all-ability comprehensives.
Nicole Lappin
Waringstown, Co Down
SF’s language ideology is lost in translation
SURELY the Irish language should be treated as any other language (Comment, July 25)?
If a school wants to introduce it as subject – as French, or German – then so be it. But I fail to see the logic in having an all-Irish-medium school. What does the future hold for the language outside of the school?
Last week, I stayed in a town south of Dublin and travelled around. Apart from bilingual signage for directions and on public buildings, I did not see any sign of the Irish language being used.  Many non-Irish people live and work in Dublin – their main working language being English. There was also a proliferation of English language colleges to enable other nationalities wanting to speak English. Some of the local people I spoke to had not looked at Irish since they left school.
In Northern Ireland, successive Sinn Fein education ministers have used their position to push ahead with this ideology.
In the year 2010/11, the minister, John O’Dowd, spent £110,000 on Irish translation services – up from £68,000 the year before. Also, CCEA spent £598,828, compared with £98,000 in 2006/07.  If this principle of translation were applied to other languages of foreign nationals living in Northern Ireland, the cost would be insurmountable.
Maybe Sinn Fein need to take their heads out of the sand as the cost of translation alone is more than enough.
Hugh Morrow
By e-mail


Watch your language in shared education debate

Iúil 31, 2013

Irish-medium schools have their place but not in the vanguard of a truly integrated education system, writes Danny Kinahan

Dr Micheal O Duibh is chief executive of the representative body for Irish-medium education in Northern Ireland. On this page last week, he sought to position his sector as key to the advancement of shared education here. Dr O Duibh is mistaken.

While recent education ministers have looked favourably on the Irish-medium sector and while minority languages were upheld in the Belfast Agreement, the Ulster Unionist Party doesn’t believe that any particular sector should be given undue advantage over another.

Unfortunately, that is what the current, flawed ESA (Education) Bill is shamelessly trying to do – and that is why my party will be challenging it.

The Ulster Unionist Party believes that pupils and parents should be free to choose schools and subjects and, when it comes to languages, have a range of options which will serve them well for life and work in the global marketplace. French, German, Chinese, Spanish and, indeed, Irish are all useful.

If you look at the Department of Education’s figures regarding the strength of Irish-medium education, you will see there are 28 primary schools and one post-primary, along with some 13 Irish-medium units of differing types.

Between them, all they have are only 4,600 pupils; that’s 1.3% of the entire Northern Ireland school population of more than 313,000 young people.

In spite of their small market-share, we recognise Irish-medium as a valid choice for some parents; however, the real questions are whether they deliver a quality education and whether there is enough demand to make the sector sustainable.

On the issue of quality education, figures show that, in 2012/13, 43.5% of pupils who attended the only Irish-medium post-primary school, Colaiste Feirste, achieved five GCSEs, including English and maths at grades A* to C. This is significantly below the overall Northern Ireland average of 60.1% for post-primaries.

While I fully acknowledge that there are a range of attainment levels across every sector, unfortunately for Dr O Duibh, the limited evidence available does not demonstrate that Irish-medium schools offer an outstanding education.

On the issue of demand, while the Ulster Unionist Party does not universally accept the arbitrary Bain benchmark of 105 pupils supposedly needed to make primary schools sustainable, the minister himself seems wedded to it.

Of the 28 Irish-medium primary schools, 17 fall short of minimum enrolment numbers. How, then, can he possibly justify opening new Irish-medium schools, often in large urban areas, when there is insufficient local demand?

The chief executive of Comhairle na Gaelscolaiochta quoted an interesting statistic: he indicated that, because 72% of Irish-medium schools are within the “other maintained sector”, they were somehow more integrated.

The fact is, of the 29 Irish-medium schools, 21 have no Protestant pupils, and the remaining eight all have fewer than five.

Out of 4,600 pupils, there are no more than 40 Protestants pupils. Hardly a statistic that turns the Irish-medium sector into the flag-carrier of shared education.

Shared education must now become a definitive target, rather than a distant aspiration.

Micheal O Duibh is mistaken if he seriously expects the rest of us to buy the notion of Irish-medium education leading the vanguard towards a single, shared system.

Danny Kinahan MLA is UUP education spokesman and vice-chairman of the Assembly’s education committee.


Fury as John O’Dowd is accused of spending twice as much on Irish as on literacy and numeracy consultations

Iúil 30, 2013

A Sinn Fein minister has been accused of exploiting his office to pursue party goals rather than policy issues.

But Education Minister John O’Dowd rejected the claims from Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt over cash being spent on public consultations by his department.

Mr Nesbitt – who compiled consultation costs across almost all Stormont departments – said Mr O’Dowd had spent twice the amount consulting the public on Irish-medium education compared to improving literacy and numeracy.

The Ulster Unionist chief, who also chairs the Stormont committee which monitors First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, has called for changes in the way decisions on public consultations are made.

Written Assembly answers show the Department of Education spent more than £46,500 on a review of Irish-medium education since 2007 – when devolution returned – compared to just £22,000 on a literacy and numeracy strategy.

In 2008, for example, the department spent £46,447 on a formal launch with documents online, a series of public meetings and meetings on request from various groups – compared to £22,827 on a review of the literacy and numeracy strategy which involved Barnardos and the Parent Advice Centre, and £23,418 on the “every school a good school” initiative on special educational needs.

Mr Nesbitt argued: “Sinn Fein are certainly following their own agenda in pursuit of the promotion of the Irish language. A ferocious amount of money has been spent, the sums involved are expodential.

“It has spent twice more on consulting on the Irish language than on literacy and numeracy; and significantly more than was spent on the early years strategy; a vital component of the education strategy for the entire province.”

Mr O’Dowd hit back, however, saying: “Public consultation is an important element, and in many instances, a legal requirement in developing policy and legislation.

“Rather than nit-picking over the cost of consultations he should welcome the fact that key stakeholders, elected representatives and indeed his constituents are afforded the opportunity to respond to key changes being proposed for education here.

“It is also disingenuous of Mr Nesbitt to use the cost of consultations as an indication of departmental priorities. According to his flawed logic I am not focusing on key areas such as literacy and numeracy and early years. The reality is that these are two of the areas that I have prioritised.”

He said since 2010, when the draft Early Years (0-6) Strategy was launched, investment in pre-school services has increased from £73m to £86m.

“I would suggest Mr Nesbitt should check his facts in future before commenting,” the minister added.


Some of the issues Stormont Departments have launched public consultations on:

* Department of Agriculture and Rural Development: Eggs and chicks regulations, Lough Neagh level scheme.

* Department of Social Development: Shankill Road and Falls Road tree planting schemes, virtual shops at Castlereagh Street, Donegall Road pedestrian island.

* Department of Education: Teacher education in climate change, increased contributions to the NI Teachers Pension Scheme.


Benefit of Irish-medium education is there for all

Iúil 25, 2013

It’s mistaken to present Irish-medium education as a barrier to shared schooling. In fact, the opposite is the case, writes Micheal O Duibh

Currently, 6% of Irish-medium primary schools are within the controlled sector, 22% within the Catholic maintained sector and 72% within the other maintained sector, showing that education through Irish can be a choice for everyone.

In the context of a shared future, the question has been asked if we can have integrated schools in the Irish-medium sector.

The truth is that 72% of all Irish-medium primary schools are independent, outside of the controlled or Catholic-maintained sector and have pupils from Catholic, Protestant and other backgrounds. 

International research shows that bilingual pupils have a greater tolerance of other cultures, something which is most relevant to the principles of shared education.

Research commissioned by the Department of Education for Northern Ireland (Deni) has indicated that Irish-medium children were more open to cultural diversity. It is wrong to present the option of Irish-medium education as a barrier to advancing shared education; the opposite is true.

Irish-medium education is an innovative way of advancing shared education, making schools sustainable and providing pupils with the advantages of bilingualism.

The choice of Irish-medium is a linguistic choice, which can be catered for within any sector. It should, therefore, not be a surprise to learn the Irish-medium sector wishes to share immersion education with more communities.

Its representative body, Comhairle na Gaelscolaíochta, provides support to communities that express an interest in Irish-medium education. It believes that, through the establishment of various school settings that meet different community needs, education through Irish for all communities is possible.

As such, there is a strong case for the establishment of Irish-medium units within controlled schools, for converting English-medium controlled schools to Irish-medium controlled schools, or consideration of federated models between Irish-medium and English-medium. This could answer a number of challenging questions facing schools in the controlled sector.

Schooling through Irish, at its simplest, involves the delivery of the curriculum through Irish. An Irish-medium setting can deliver the six criteria mentioned in Deni’s sustainable schools policy:

  • Quality educational experience – Irish-medium provision within the school would ensure a quality educational experience, increasing pupils’ understanding of language, enhancing reading, writing, aural and oral abilities, while offering the other advantages of bilingualism
  • Stable enrolment trends – Irish-medium education could attract more pupils from across communities and ensure stable enrolment
  • Sound financial position –Schools could benefit from premiums for Irish-medium providers and shared education
  • Strong leadership and management – Irish-medium provision within a school provides those involved with a chance to display dynamic leadership and management
  • Accessibility – Irish-medium provision could be a strong asset in enhancing a school’s accessibility to all communities
  • Strong links with community – Irish-medium provision would strengthen links with all members of the community and encourage greater cultural understanding.

Comhairle na Gaelscolaíochta welcomes all communities to consider Irish-medium education for their children, so that they can be part of a global society where the vast majority speak two languages.

Irish-medium education offers a system which improves children’s skills in English and Irish, making them more tolerant while also providing the skills to learn further languages with greater ease.


Majority of parents want school mergers

Nollaig 10, 2012

Parents have sent an unequivocal message to the Education Minister as he prepares to make major decisions on the future rationalisation of the schools’ estate — they want their children educated side by side.

And they believe the community — not politicians and civil servants in the Department of Education — should have the say on how closures and amalgamations are carried out.

More than six out of 10 people support merging schools of various backgrounds as a way to save money, according to the latest Belfast Telegraph LucidTalk opinion poll. The survey asked respondents, in light of under pressure education budgets, which of the following options they would consider as a way to save money.

The options included a) cutting back on maintenance in existing schools; b) merging Catholic maintained, state controlled, integrated and Irish medium schools if pupils numbers were low; c) raising taxes and rates or d) abolishing free school transport for children whose parents work.

The overwhelming majority of respondents (61%) stated they would prefer to see mergers of schools with low pupil numbers as opposed to cutting back on school maintenance (10%), increasing taxes and rates (9%) or abolishing free school transport for children whose parents work (20%).

The findings come two days before Education Minister John O’Dowd is due to take receipt of Northern Ireland’s five education and library boards’ area plans for the post primary sector. The North Eastern Education and Library Board last night published its proposals.

The boards should give the Sinn Fein minister food for thought as he considers how the rationalise the schools estate. Proposals to reduce the 85,000 empty desks in our schools include closures, mergers, extending some schools to cater for up to 2,000 pupils and retaining the status quo.

“There is enormous waste with school resources; all schools should pool their resources and facilities,” one respondent said. There was an almost even split in the level of support among Protestants and Catholics for cross-sector mergers with 63% and 56% respectively.

Trevor Lunn MLA said: “These results confirm our impression that the public is more prepared than some politicians to consider radical moves to merge more schools across the different education sectors. “It will bring economic as well as social benefits to our society, and I would urge the department to make it easier to do so.”

The poll also reveals more than half of those surveyed (57%) were unaware of the public consultation process that was criticised for running over the summer holidays with only 15% of poll respondents having given feedback on the area plans.

The Programme for Government has made a commitment to substantially increase the number of schools sharing facilities by 2015 while an advisory group on shared education is due to make its recommendations to the Education Minister in February


DUP blasts TV ad in Irish as waste of public’s money

Deireadh Fómhair 2, 2012

The DUP has accused the Education Minister of wasting money on a new television advertisement broadcast solely in Irish.

The ‘Get Involved’ advert aired during the UTV news at 5.45pm, and was swiftly condemned by East Londonderry MP Gregory Campbell. Mr Campbell said the Sinn Fein minister, John O’Dowd, was “potentially acting illegally” and was more concerned with a party political agenda than the education of young people. “At a time when all government budgets are under pressure and schools are seeing budgets cut it is entirely inappropriate for the Education Minister to sanction a politically motivated television advert in Irish,” Mr Campbell said.

“The last census figures we have available highlight that around 90% of the population of Northern Ireland have absolutely no knowledge or use of the Irish language. “Of those who do speak, write or understand the Irish language in Northern Ireland, there are none who are unable to speak English. “This therefore is an example of public money being spent on a party political promotion of the Irish language with no benefit either to the education of our young people or to society as a whole.” Mr Campbell claimed the DUP Finance Minister, Sammy Wilson, had withdrawn the Department of Education’s ability to spend money in this way. He called the decision to proceed with the advert a “petty stunt” and said he believed the broadcast could be in breach of the Communications Act (2003). But Mr O’Dowd said he was “disappointed with the criticism” of the campaign, which is also being broadcast on radio and online.

The Education Minister said the advertisement was in keeping with his department’s statutory duty to encourage and facilitate Irish-medium education. “Not only did I go through all the due processes to procure this campaign, but it is one that is of vital importance to our society,” he said. “It is aimed at raising the value we, as a society, place on education.” Meanwhile, at a Belfast City Council meeting last night the DUP failed in its attempt to prevent the erection of a ‘Nollaig Shona Duit’ (Merry Christmas) sign being erected in the grounds of City Hall again this year.


Revealed: The 18 Northern Ireland schools which will share £173m cash pot

Meitheamh 29, 2012

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Shared education is way forward

Samhain 22, 2011

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Caitriona Ruane faces challenge over bus fund decision

Aibreán 14, 2011

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Ruane: Teach Irish in every Northern Ireland school

Márta 21, 2011

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