Irish-medium Education has become the preferred choice of an increasing number of parents throughout Ireland in recent years. Irish-medium schools follow the immersion method of education which allows children to acquire the language naturally through daily experience of an Irish language environment. Irish is the primary language of instruction and communication within Irish-medium schools, however, there is also significant emphasis on the formal teaching of English. Through the immersion education system, pupils achieve a high level of fluency in both English and Irish.
Irish-medium schools deliver the full Northern Ireland Curriculum and receive Government funding under similar criteria to other schools.
From the standpoint of academic achievement, over three decades of studies consistently show that immersion students achieve as well as or better than non-immersion peers on stadardized measures of verbal and mathematics skills administered in English (Cloud, Genesee & Hamayan 2000; Genesee 1987).
A research briefing published by the Department of Education in Northern Ireland indicated that former pupils of Irish-medium schools attained a higher academic standard than might be expected among the general population of the same age group (Gallagher & Hanna 2002).
Research from European countries would suggest that children in Irish-medium schools may find it easier to learn further languages.
One such study carried out in the Basque country found that bilingual students display greater facility in learning a third language (Cenoz & Valencia 1994).
Research consistently finds that the immersion experience actually enhances English language development (Cloud, Genesee & Hamayan 2000).
Research findings from French Immersion Programmes in Canada indicate that “children in early immersion education programmes tend to perform better than children in regular programmes on several aspects of English achievement” (Baker & Hornberger 2001).
Research commissioned by the Department of Education in Northern Ireland indicated that past pupils of Irish-medium schools had a very positive attitude to the educational and cultural experience they received. There was also an indication that, due to the cultural enrichment these children experienced, on the whole they where more open to cultural diversity (Gallagher & Hanna 2002).