The imminent removal of exemption criteria for students with special needs from studying Irish will help the Irish educational system to become “more equitable and fairer”, according to an advocacy body.
The Dyslexia Association of Ireland (DAI) welcomed the changes announced by Education Minister Joe McHugh, saying they represent something “that we have been waiting for for a long time”.
Mr McHugh said that for the coming school year, primary and post-primary pupils with special needs will be automatically exempted from studying the language should they so wish, regardless of their diagnosis.
The move is the first major change to the criteria for studying Irish in a quarter of a century, and was arrived at following an extensive public consultation.
Until now parents who wished to have their children exempted from studying the language were required to furnish the government with a costly psychologist’s report stating their unsuitability to participate in those classes.
“The old Irish exemption criteria was not fit for purpose and we look forward to the implementation of new criteria which we have been very involved in advocating for,” said Rosie Bissett, chief executive of the DAI, in light of the announcement.
She said that many of her association’s members had “waited a long time to be consulted on Irish exemptions and so when they were asked to do so they did not hold back”.
The study of the Irish language has long been held as a stumbling block for students with learning difficulties or to non-nationals at a disadvantage due to a lack of childhood grounding in the subject.
Mr McHugh described the changes, which will be implemented via a series of circulars to be distributed to schools next month, as “long overdue”.
Amy Smyth, information and advocacy coordinator with the DAI, meanwhile welcomed the fact that “many of our recommendations have now been taken on board”.
“This will hopefully create a much fairer system,” she said.
The public consultation on the issue ran from December 7 last year until mid-January and saw more than 11,000 people sharing their views on the matter.