Wednesday, 19 May 2021
Department of Education and Skills
An exemption from the study of Irish may only be granted by school management in the exceptional circumstances outlined in section 2.2. of circular 0052/2019 (Primary) and 0053/2019 (Post Primary). As such, I have no role in the granting of exemptions.
Any pupil who does not meet the criteria for an exemption from the study of Irish should be provided with a differentiated approach to language learning and any other supports in accordance with Guidelines for supporting pupils with Special Educational Needs in Mainstream Schools and with Special Educational Needs: A continuum of Support. Schools are required to address a wide diversity of needs by providing a differentiated learning experience for pupils/students in an inclusive school environment. All pupils/students should be encouraged to study the language and achieve a level of personal proficiency that is appropriate to their ability.
In addition, the Primary Language Curriculum (PLC) is for children of all abilities in all school contexts and is informed by the principles of inclusion and the benefits of bilingualism for all pupils. The PLC recognises and supports pupils’ engagement with Irish and English at different stages and rates along their language-learning journey. It builds on the language knowledge and experience that pupils bring to the school. The Progression Continua in the Primary Language Curriculum provide a framework for teachers to identify the pupil’s stage of language development and to plan interventions that support the development of language skills and competences in Irish and in English in an integrated manner, emphasising the transferability of language skills across languages.
A psychological or medical professional’s report is no longer a requirement for granting an exemption from the study of Irish. Such a report may be helpful to the school in considering how they are meeting an individual pupil’s needs but is not the deciding factor for the Principal to grant an exemption. When schools receive reports from a psychologist or other specialist recommending an Irish Exemption, the onus is on the school to consider their own testing and the pupils performance in school. This is the evidence required by the circular.
In relation to stress and anxiety, schools can best promote the wellbeing of students through a multi-component, preventative, whole school approach. In line with best practice, The National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) encourages schools to adopt a whole school, continuum of support approach to provide for children and young people’s wellbeing needs. This involves three levels: Support for All, Support for Some and Support for Few.
The area of wellbeing and the promotion of positive mental health is one to which the Department of Education affords particular priority. In this regard my Department is committed to responding to the challenges our young people face today and their need for education in the area of wellbeing and stress. My Department has published a Wellbeing Policy Statement and Framework for Practice (2018-2023) for all schools to promote student wellbeing using a holistic and integrated approach here. It is important to point out that schools are already doing a lot to equip children with the knowledge, skills and competencies to enhance their wellbeing and deal with challenges. The Wellbeing Policy builds on this good work.
Schools are being supported to engage in a collaborative process of change, working with staff, students and parents to improve practice in 4 specific areas of school life that we know impact upon wellbeing – culture and environment, policy and planning, teaching and learning and relationships. My Department is providing schools with a number of resources to support this process and help them to develop their wellbeing practices. Details of the wellbeing policy are available here:
In addition, the National Educational Psychological Service of my Department (NEPS) has developed some useful resources for students, parents and teachers, to support students who are experiencing anxiety. These are currently available on their webpage: . There are further resources available the National Council for Guidance in Education (NCGE) website .
I would encourage the parents to engage with the school in relation to all these resources.
My Department has provided additional guidance for schools in relation to applications for an exemption from the study of Irish under Section 2.2.a. of Circular 0053/201, in circumstances where pupils enrolled from abroad for the first time into 5th or 6th class in a school in Ireland during 2019/20, or into 6th class during the 2020/21 academic year. This guidance takes account of the impact of school closures due to COVID 19 during the 2019/20 and 2020/21 school years, and is available on my Department’s website.
As set out in section 2.4 of the Circular, an appeal will “focus solely on the process the school engaged in reaching its decision. The Irish Exemptions Appeals Committee (IEAC) must consider how the school followed the process as prescribed in this Circular and the accompanying Guidelines for Primary Schools”.
The Department of Education website has guidelines (including checklists) and FAQs on exemptions from the study of Irish which can be accessed here: www.education.ie/en/Parents/Information/Irish-Exemption