Minister outlines his response to report on advancing post-primary Irish-medium education

Education Minister, John O’Dowd, has outlined his response to an advisory group report on advancing post- primary Irish-medium education. The Board of CnaG will be discussing the implications of the report , and will be making a response to the Department of Education and to the Minister as soon as possible.

The Minister set up the advisory group in August 2013. It was chaired by Helen Ó Murchú and included Paul O’Doherty of the CCMS, Paul McAlister of the Education and Training Inspectorate and Micheál Ó Duibh of Comhairle na Gaelscolaíochta.

The report contains 33 recommendations proposed by the advisory group grouped under three key areas:

• The required elements of a strategic approach to planning for Irish-medium education by the authorities.
• A pathway for development at post-primary level.
• A series of recommendations to help obviate the constraining factors which hinder the continued development of Irish-medium education at post-primary level.

In a statement to the Assembly the Minister said: “Irish-medium education continues to expand successfully at pre-school and primary levels, with almost 3,600 children currently attending Irish-medium primary schools and units.

“Yet there is a gap in the strategic development of Irish-medium post-primary provision. In the last school census there were 830 post-primary pupils attending one stand-alone school in Belfast and three Irish-medium units in English-medium schools where the curriculum is delivered all or partially through Irish.

“I therefore set up an advisory group to focus on the development of practical and deliverable solutions to increase access to Irish-medium post-primary education and to address the challenges facing the future development of sustainable provision.

“I thank the group for their report and I am satisfied that it can form the basis of a framework for the delivery of high quality Irish-medium post-primary provision.”

Turning to the recommendations contained within the report the Minister said: “In relation to a strategic approach to planning, I welcome the focus on practical and deliverable solutions in the short, medium and long term. The recommendations include mechanisms for measuring demand, the roles and responsibilities of key stakeholders and my Department’s vision.

“There are 11 recommendations relating to a viable pathway to a sustainable school which include optimal geographic locations of present and proposed post-primary provision as well as models and levels of immersion and intake rates.

“While I cannot comment on specific areas and potential development proposals, collaborative working in the Irish-medium sector, focused on the provision of high quality education for all pupils, must form the cornerstone of progress and development.

“The report makes 12 recommendations to remove barriers to progress. These relate to teacher supply, continuing professional development, north-south co-operation, resources, the use of ICT and current and future funding approaches.

“I accept the expert advice of the advisory group that I need to create increased access for pupils in short, medium and longer terms. The group recommends a development model of provision which begins with units culminating in stand-alone schools, which I accept.”

Looking to the future for the Irish-medium post-primary sector, John O’Dowd said: “I am satisfied that the framework exists to facilitate development towards an Irish-medium post-primary school located outside Belfast. I accept the direction of travel towards stand-alone schools which builds a clear pathway incrementally from smaller units in high quality existing schools towards stand-alone provision. This has been balanced with the need for excellent teaching to ensure learning and pupil attainment are not put at risk.”

In conclusion the Minister said: “Having listened to parents and stakeholders, I believe the best way forward for children, their parents and the Irish language community is to focus on the practical solutions outlined in the advisory group’s report. I accept the group’s vision of Irish-medium education and their pathway to creating educationally sound post-primary provision which enhances the significant benefits provided through the medium of the Irish language.”

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