The Minister for Education and Skills announced a rehaul of the criteria for granting exemptions from studying Irish earlier this week.
The new rules for the exemptions will be in place for the new school year in September of this year.
A public consultation was organised by the Department on the issue. Individuals were invited to share their views on what changes should be made to make the process more inclusive for pupils with additional needs (including those on the autism spectrum).
What are the main changes?
The new rules are designed to cover several outstanding issues in the education system as it changes over time. These include:
- Raising the age criteria from 11 years to 12 for potential applicants;
- Ensuring that pupils enrolled within special schools or special classes (including autism classes) attached to mainstream schools will not need to apply for an exemption;
- No longer requiring a psychological assessment of pupils to process an application (including an IQ assessment);
- Leaving the final decision to grant an exemption with the school principal, following discussions with the pupils, their family, and their teachers;
- Setting up an appeals process whereby families can petition a school’s refusal to grant an exemption.
Which schools do the new rules apply to?
The new rules will only apply to English-medium schools.
Pupils attending gaelscoileanna will not be affected as they need to engage through the Irish language in order to access the rest of the curriculum.
Will an autism diagnosis on its own be enough to qualify for an exemption from Irish?
No, it will not.
Although schools are moving away from a diagnosis-based model, there will need to be additional difficulties present for an autistic pupil to be considered for an exemption.
Autistic pupils enrolled in a special school or special class within a mainstream school will already qualify for an exemption. An application will need to be made if they are not enrolled in either or do not attend a special class on a full-time basis.
Any review will take a detailed account of whatever difficulties a pupil may be experiencing with their literacy and language development (as well as any learning disabilities). A school will only grant an exemption if the principal is satisfied that learning Irish is causing undue difficulties on a pupil’s language development in an English-medium environment.
How do significant learning disabilities factor into the new rules?
Exemptions may be granted to pupils with significant learning disabilities in certain circumstances. Applications for these cases will only be considered if the pupil(s) in question:
- have at least reached Second Class;
- began standardised tests in key literacy and numeracy skills, and;
- are scoring at/below the 10th percentile.
What can I do if my application for an Irish language exemption is rejected now?
The new rules open up an appeal process for families to pursue in the event their application is refused by the school.
The Minister will establish a panel of experts in children’s learning, from which a central Appeals Process Board to process all cases could be established. Such a Board would be reviewed after two years of operation to allow new processes and procedures to be bedded down, pending the Parent and Student Charter Bill‘s enactment.
The Department envisages that the Appeals Process Board would meet twice a year to consider refused applications which could not be resolved at school level.