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'Huge positive impact', 'very problematic': Mixed reactions to Irish exemption rule changes

IQ levels and psychological assessments are no longer a factor.

The criteria for Irish exemption will be changed from September.
The criteria for Irish exemption will be changed from September.
Image: Shutterstock/pong-photo9

THERE HAS BEEN a wide variety of reactions to the updated criteria for exemptions from learning Irish in schools announced earlier today

Previous criteria based on IQ and psychological assessments will be removed in favour of reading and spelling comprehension levels from September for those with learning disabilities.

Some say the reforms will make a “big difference” to those with dyslexia and other difficulties, while others say it could lead to the phasing out of Irish as a mandatory subject.  

The Dyslexia Association of Ireland (DAI) has welcomed the changes and says they were a long time coming. 

“We hope that it eliminates the false perception that children with dyslexia are somehow accessing supports that they are not entitled to or are faking their very real and very serious difficulties,” said Amy Smyth of the Dyslexia Assocation of Ireland  in a statement.

Students who apply for an exemption to study Irish due to a learning disability will no longer have to provide evidence from a psychologist, nor test under a certain IQ level. 

Previously, a two to three hour psychological assessment and report was required for people applying for an exemption from the subject. 

DAI CEO Rosie Bissett said today’s announcement was something the group had waited on for a long time. 

“An Irish exemption can make a huge positive impact to a young person’s life and we look forward to supporting parents, students and teachers through the coming months in understanding these changes once the circular has been released with the full details.” she said. 

The final decision on whether a student can be exempt from Irish will continue to be made by the school principal. 

Children will now need to have a standardised score at or below the 10th percentile in word reading, reading comprehension or spelling to qualify.

The DAI say this is a fairer measurement than IQ levels. 

‘Causing stress and anxiety’ 

Psychology and education researcher Dr Naoise O’Reilly works with families of children with learning difficulties and has dyslexia herself. 

She believes the removal of the psychological assessment will make “a big difference” to children with learning disabilities struggling with the language. 

“The problem with Irish and English is that they look the same but sound completely different,” O’Reilly told TheJournal.ie

“Having another alphabet that looks the same but sounds different is very confusing when learning it.”

If it’s causing stress and anxiety… then I would have advised parents and students to go for the assessment.

O’Reilly underwent three psychological assessments before her diagnosis and said she is glad they are no longer required. 

A statement from Gaeloideachas, a national organisation supporting the development of education through Irish, said there is a “significant risk” that the changes could be a back door to making Irish an optional subject in the future.  

“Granting an automatic exemption in the case of pupils in special schools or special classes is very problematic,” the statement said.

“It sends a message that Irish-medium education is not suitable for students with special educational needs.”

It stated that there was “no clarification on the implications” for children with learning disabilities in Gaeltacht primary schools who seek exemption for the study of Irish at post-primary level. 

The organisation said a public awareness campaign should take place to highlight the advantages of learning Irish to parents. 

General secretary of Conradh na Gaeilge, an organisation which promotes the Irish language, Julian de Spáinn has also criticised the changes due to the consultation process seeming pre-determined. 

“The survey was very limited. It didn’t give scope to fix the problems in the system,” said de Spáinn. 

“If you were to develop how we teach Irish from pre-school to university, which we have never done… If a student came in late and achieved a certain level of Irish within the few years of education in Ireland, why shouldn’t they get Leaving Cert points for it?”

Private assessment

Free psychological assessments are available through the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS), but many parents decide to go private to speed up the process.

Educational assessments for dyslexia cost €550 through the DAI. Charges for a private assessment cost between €500 to €800 on average. 

The new criteria will only apply to English-language schools with exemptions available for students from 2nd class onward. 

Today’s announcement followed a public consultation period that lasted for several months. Over 11,100 people responded to a government survey on the issue. 

Children who went to school in other countries until they were up to 12 years of age will be exempt from learning Irish. Children enrolled in Ireland after a period of at least three consecutive years in school abroad who are at least 12 years old will also be exempt.  

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