No Gaelcholáistí included in the 6 new post-primary schools announced for 2020

Dec 18, 2019

The Minister for Education and Skills Joe McHugh announced yesterday that 6 new post-primary schools are to open in 2020. A significant number of parents in the catchment areas for the new schools had expressed a preference for Irish-medium education for their children, and are very unhappy that all 6 of the new schools will be English-medium schools.

Since 2011, the Department of Education have used a system based on parental expressions of interest to determine what kind of new schools will be established. Fewer new Irish-medium schools have been established as a result, because the process is weighted against the smaller number of parents who would choose a gaelscoil or gaelcholáiste for their children. In the consultations re the 6 newly-announced schools, 425 parents chose Irish-medium education as their preference for their children. The demand was particularly significant in Dublin 6, where 172 parents chose Irish-medium education, and in Kilcoole, with 130 parents choosing it.

The Department has indicated that it will consult immediately with the patrons of the two new schools in Dublin 6 and Kilcoole to examine whether an aonad should open as part of their new schools and if so, when it should open. There is a huge difference, however, between an Irish-medium post-primary school and an aonad. An aonad is a unit that provides post-primary education through Irish, but that operates under the roll number and management of an English-medium school. There are no criteria to ensure that quality Irish-medium education across a range of subjects will be provided in an aonad, however, and it is not a given that the model of immersion education, nationally and internationally recognised as best practice, will be implemented.

“We’re very unhappy that the aonad model is being pushed again as the solution to providing Irish medium education at post-primary level” said Bláthnaid ní Ghréacháin, Gaeloideachas CEO. “It’s too vulnerable a model, and it doesn’t deliver quality. The Department doesn’t have a policy on what an aonad should provide or how it should be run. As a result, parents cannot be confident that Irish medium education will be available for the duration of their child’s education, or that the immersion education model will be used, if they enrol their child in an aonad”.

“A vote for Irish-medium education is not the same as a vote for an aonad. Parents have a legitimate expectation that Irish-medium post-primary education will be available for their children and by doing this, the Department of Education is not taking their expressed wishes seriously. It is very difficult to accept the aonad model even as a concept when there aren’t criteria for them to develop into fully-recognised Irish-medium schools” said ní Ghréacháin.

Gaeloideachas has long been campaigning for the reform of the process to establish new schools, so that equal opportunity can be given to parents who choose Irish-medium education for their children. Although significant and welcome reforms have been made to the process at primary level,these changes have not been implemented at post-primary level. “It’s become very clear from the patronage determination process that the Department intends to use the aonad model as a way of providing Irish-medium education on a phased basis” said ní Ghréacháin “but it’s not working. No aonad has gone on to become a school in its own right based solely on enrolment numbers, even when their initial enrolment is comparable to the numbers in a fully-recognised Irish-medium school. More have closed because their patrons failed to guarantee parents high-quality, sustainable Irishmedium education for their children.”

One positive note in the reports issued by the Department on the process is an admission that there are issues with the aonad model, and that they are engaged in ongoing discussions with relevant stakeholders. For many years, Gaeloideachas has been lobbying for the State to adopt a comprehensive and supportive policy to regulate the aonad model. The organisation sees a pressing need for a policy that would help the existing aonaid to implement immersion education and achieve status as fully-recognised Irish-medium schools, and that would set out criteria for patrons with regard to the quality and sustainability of provision before sanctioning the opening of a new aonad. “Gaeloideachas has a policy that covers all aspects of what would be required in a State policy. We’ve shared our vision with the Department of Education and we’ll continue to use the policy in our advocacy for proper recognition for the aonaid, and appropriate support structures to allow them to develop” said ní Ghréacháin.

Notes for Editors

Fundamental Principles of the Gaeloideachas Aonad Policy

  1. Gaeloideachas recognises the immersion education model as the most effective method to promote the acquisition of a target language. The immersion education model is where all subjects on the curriculum, except for English, are taught through Irish.
  2. Gaeloideachas believes that an independent Irish-medium school is preferable to an aonad to effectively implement the immersion education model.
  3. Gaeloideachas believes that every aonad patron should aim to develop the aonad to become a stand-alone school, subject to meeting the criteria set out in this policy.
  4. Gaeloideachas believes that the Department of Education and Skills should not sanction new aonaid if the prospective patron does not fulfil the criteria set out in this policy.
  5. Gaeloideachas recognises the circumstances and conditions of the existing aonaid and the organisation supports them in effective implementation of the immersion education model.
  6. Gaeloideachas believes that where Irish-medium education is available it should be actively promoted, and that aonad patrons have a duty to develop them and to promote them.

Contact: Blathnaid ní Ghréacháin, Gaeloideachas CEO | 01 8535190 | 086 8050335
Clare Spáinneach, Gaeloideachas Vice-CEO (acting) | 01 8535193 | 087 9724020