PUPILS at a Kerry gaelscoil have better English reading skills than other children by the time they reach third class, a study has shown.
The findings call into question a 2006 report by Department of Education inspectors on English literacy of children up to first class at Gaelscoil Mhic Easmainn in Tralee, where pupils are not taught English until senior infants under a policy known as total early immersion.
The inspectors found pupils had “severe and significant deficiencies in English”. This evidence informed Education Minister Mary Hanafin’s decision last summer to limit all-Irish schools from using total early immersion beyond the first term of junior infants.
The implementation of that policy has been put on hold by the High Court until it hears a legal challenge by two gaelscoils, including Gaelscoil Mhic Easmainn.
The school commissioned an analysis of its pupils’ scores in English reading ability in MICRA-T tests, which are taken by primary pupils from first class onwards to help the department assess levels of educational disadvantage.
The study by Seamus Long, a regional representative of the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation, concluded that the classes assessed by inspectors in 2006 had above-average reading skills as soon as 18 months later.
For the 28 children who were in senior infants during the inspection, 53% were in the top two score bands in the tests, compared to just 40% nationally. At the lower end, only 32% of the class were in the two lowest scoring categories, compared to a national average of 40%.
A comparison of the group who were in first class when the inspectors visited had similar findings when they started third class.
Almost 60% scored in the top level for reading compared to a 40% national average, while fewer children at Gaelscoil Mhic Easmainn than average were in the lowest category.
“These results prove what we always believed, that the inspectors’ report in 2006 was not correct. They only looked at pupils in the first three class groups and did not take account of how the skills pupils pick up learning just Irish can help them when they start formal English,” said Seán Seosamh Ó Conchubhair, chairman of the school’s board.
A study reported by the Irish Examiner last month also showed the same trend nationally, with children in gaelscoils outperforming national averages on English reading skills.
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