Thursday, 23 September 2021
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
First, I wish to query the status of supports that have been provided to Irish-language schools, an tacaíocht atá ar fáil do scoileanna Gaeilge chun Gaeilge a mhúineadh.
Second, I ask the Minister for an update on the consultation on the leaving certificate specification. We had a very good discussion with her at the coiste na Gaeilge before the recess. Táim ag iarraidh a fháil amach an bhfuil aon athrú nó aon rud ag tarlú. I wish to find out whether there have been any changes to that process or whether there is any update.
Gabhaim buíochas leis an Teachta as a cheist.
My Department's commitment to supporting Irish-medium education and promoting the use of Irish in Irish-medium schools is evidenced by the progress which has been made by the Department, along with partners, in implementing the actions set out in the Government's 20-Year Strategy for the Irish Language 2010-2030, the five-year action plan for the Irish language and my Department's Policy on Gaeltacht Education 2017-2022.
An estimated budget of €20.3 million, a significant budget, has been allocated to support the implementation of actions arising from the policy on Gaeltacht education since its commencement in 2017. This includes the provision of a range of additional resources such as grant supports and additional teaching hours provided annually to schools participating in the Gaeltacht school recognition scheme. Further supports are being provided to five post-primary island schools.
Regarding staffing, primary schools in the Gaeltacht are allowed a more favourable appointment and retention staffing schedule. At post-primary level, an additional post is allocated to all Irish-medium post-primary schools both within and outside the Gaeltacht.
Gaelscoileanna outside of the Gaeltacht are in receipt of additional capitation at a rate of €23 per pupil, in addition to the standard capitation rate paid to all primary schools. This is to give an extra incentive for Gaelscoileanna to promote the use of the Irish language in their school communities.
An additional per capitabilingual grant is paid to schools in the voluntary secondary sector, both within and outside the Gaeltacht, where instruction is through the medium of Irish in full or in part.
An additional €110.50 per pupil is paid to schools where students are taught all subjects through Irish. Where some subjects are taught through Irish, an extra €22 is paid for each student, per subject, up to a maximum of four subjects.
Irish-medium teacher education has been supported through the provision of ongoing continuing professional development and upskilling options for teachers. In addition, funding is also being provided for places on two new Irish-medium teacher education programmes, allowing for up to 60 new funded places annually.
I thank the Minister for her comprehensive reply, which shows there are significant supports available. She mentioned the context of the €20 million budget to support policy on Gaeltacht education. We need to be careful about where that money is being spent and whether it is being spent effectively in all Departments. As she knows from her engagement with Coiste na Gaeilge, there is considerable concern at this time in regard to the ongoing assessment of the draft leaving certificate specifications for Irish. If we are to encourage people not just to learn Irish but to use it as part of their daily lives and leave school with an ability to use it in their profession or career, we need to make sure we get this process right. Is any consideration being given to revising the consultation process that is under way within the Department, which has been impacted by the various Covid issues? All these wonderful supports will be diluted unless we get the specifications right and there is confidence in those specifications among the Irish language teaching community.
I reiterate that there is an enormous commitment to this issue within the Department. The funding in excess of €20 million speaks for itself. Significant work has been done and supports put in place, not just for the teaching of the Irish language but also for providing supports to Irish-medium schools within Gaeltacht areas and, indeed, outside them. Work has commenced on the development of a new policy for Irish-medium education, as outlined in the programme for Government, with the view to providing a framework for the delivery of a high-quality Irish-medium education in Irish-medium schools and early learning and care settings outside the Gaeltacht. The new policy will complement the separate policy on Gaeltacht education, which will continue to support early learning and care settings and schools within Gaeltacht areas.
Efforts to promote extended use of Irish in local communities and the implementation of local Gaeltacht language plans are set out in the Gaeltacht Act 2012. An interdepartmental working group has been established within the Department to progress this work as efficiently as possible. The planned next steps to be taken to inform the development of the new policy include the commissioning of a review of relevant national and international literature and research, along with an extensive consultation process with key stakeholders. Implementation of the policy will commence following the conclusion of all necessary stages of policy development, including comprehensive and extensive stakeholder engagement, which is vital to ensuring well-informed policy development.
As regards the leaving certificate specifications, there was an extension of the consultation process in that regard. This is important because the wider the consultation, the more effective it will be.
For policy in this area to be effective, it is essential that it goes from reámchscoile to ollscoile, that is, from preschool right through to university, and there is consistency around the standards. I ask the Minister once again to have a look at the consultation process within her Department and to engage with An Gréasán do Mhúinteoirí Gaeilge, which has commissioned very comprehensive research among its members, who are the people at the coalface. Time is needed to allow the junior cycle reforms to bed in and be assessed and to ensure they feed through in a proper manner into the leaving certificate reforms. I certainly acknowledge and welcome the huge supports the Minister is making available for Gaeltacht teaching, but it is important that we get every aspect of this right.
Deputy Calleary is right that having a focus on the whole strategy, from infants classes right through to third level, is key. That should come before the proposals regarding the leaving certificate. The problem with what is on the table in regard to the leaving certificate examination is relatively easily to comprehend. If we are going to put in place a more challenging course that is not a second, additional course that someone can take on top of the existing Irish course and there are no bonus points available for it, why would anyone take it? That is the key question. In fact, we would be discouraging people from taking on the more challenging course. Students who have fluency in Irish and go to a Gaeltacht school or Gaelcholáiste will be discouraged from taking on more challenging work unless the course is an additional course or it offers bonus points. That is easily comprehended.
The other part of the consultation that is being lost is the potential that foundation level will be ended. There are students who find Irish difficult. If we are talking about getting rid of the foundation level examination, we are closing the door on their being able to study Irish for the leaving certificate. It is an absolutely bonkers proposal and it needs to be put in the bin straight away.
I want to add my voice to those of the previous two speakers in regard to the need for any system we put together for Irish language teaching to take into account provision from naíonra level right up to third level. That consultation is necessary before we put plans in place.
I thank the Minister for her support for Coláiste Ghlór na Mara and its satellite school, which was previously known as Coláiste Lú, in County Louth. There are still logistical difficulties but I know there has been a conversation about the possibility of satellite schools being a means of dealing with the problem of reaching critical mass in regard to numbers for Gaelcholáisti. We need to make sure we get the whole system to work in delivering Irish education provision. I ask the Minister to ensure we get the supports that are necessary to deliver a satellite school for Dundalk. It is an absolute necessity.
I welcome Deputy Ó Murchú's very positive comments in regard to the development of satellite schools. It is testament to people's innovation and absolute determination to find pathways forward where there might be difficulties, and to discover ways and means of addressing issues in order to be as inclusive and proactive as possible. We are hugely committed to continuing to do that into the future.
The previous two speakers referred to issues relating to T1 agus T2. I absolutely appreciate the views that have been expressed here. There are myriad and contrary views as to how this should progress. It is the beauty of the consultation process that there is an opportunity to hear all views, experiences and wisdom on how best to proceed. The key objective is that we grow, nurture and support the Irish language. That is the objective and it is what we will do.