Over 2,000 people respond to Irish exemption plans in school

More than 2,000 people have provided their views on Department of Education plans to reform how students may be allowed an exemption from studying Irish.

Education Minister Joe McHugh has extended the deadline for responses to an online survey on the issue due to the level of interest.

His department announced plans a month ago for prospective changes to existing rules around pupils who can be exempted from studying the language.

Mr McHugh yesterday ruled out any question of removing Irish as a compulsory subject up to Leaving Certificate, which must be studied unless students are awarded an exemption by their schools.

Education Minister Joe McHugh.

The draft rule changes would offer greater transparency and uniformity around the decision-making process in relation to exemptions, which are decided by school management based on guidelines that have not been revised for more than 20 years.

The primary reason for exemptions relates to young people who have been taught abroad, either for their entire primary education or during an absence of at least three years from Ireland. There has been a significant growth in numbers granted exemptions based on learning difficulties.

Mr McHugh said he was surprised at figures in a research report informing the consultation, which showed that more than 38,000 people availed of exemptions from Irish in 2016, including nearly one in 10 second-level students.

He said more than 2,100 responses were received in the week before Christmas to the online survey on the proposals. It was launched on December 7.

More than half of them have also provided additional comments on aspects of the planned changes, with respondents asked to identify whether they are a parent, student, or teacher, or if they have some other interest in the topic.

Mr McHugh said the submissions came from a broad range of sectors and he was delighted at the huge level of interest in the consultation.

“It’s an indication of how important an issue the teaching of Irish is for many, many people, and how strongly people of all ages feel about the teaching of our national language,” he said.

As well as changing how learning needs that make a pupil eligible for an Irish language exemption are determined, the proposed changes would raise from 11 to 12 the age at which an application for a child could be made.

The survey is open until January 18 and can be accessed from the home page of the Department of Education website: www.education.ie

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