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School bid to switch from English to Irish language education rejected

The proposal has been rejected by the Department of Education

A SMALL rural primary school has had its proposal to become the first to switch from the English to Irish language sector rejected.

St MacNissius' PS in Tannaghmore, Co Antrim wanted to officially deliver its education through the medium of Irish from September.

The school had already started offering Irish-medium education. Last year it launched its first `Rang a hAon' (P1) with 12 pupils, its largest intake in years. There were 35 pupils in total at the school last year.

To be known as Bunscoil na Tamhnaí Móire, the school said it represented a fantastic opportunity to give children "the chance to become bilingual". There is already a successful Irish nursery operating in the area - Naíscoil na Tamhnaí Móire.

Principal Máire Darragh said there was significant interest in learning through Irish and she expected pupil numbers to grow. She said the school also had transport in place to benefit children from the Antrim and Randalstown areas.

However, the proposal has been rejected by the Department of Education.

Advice from department officials said the introduction of the Irish P1 class in September 2016 was not subject to the `development proposal' process and "therefore unauthorised".

Changing from delivery of the curriculum from English to Irish, officials said, was considered as a significant change of character, which should have been subject a development proposal.

The advice also said there was "no known direct precedent for a proposal of this type which seeks to allow two forms of education to co-exist while one is phased out and another expands in response to predicted demand over an extended period of time".

Inspectors raised the issue of the educational experience of the English speaking cohort and highlighted "the need for clarity as to how the learning and social needs of EM pupils would be met during the transition period from EM to IM provision".

They added that while the approach was a "novel" solution to deal with increasing pupil numbers and lack of access to Irish language schooling, "it does not sufficiently address the practicalities for delivery of such a change".

Rejecting the bid, department permanent secretary Derek Baker said it was "clearly an innovative proposal".

"We should of course encourage innovation. I am conscious too of the department's statutory duties in respect of Irish-medium provision," Mr Baker said.

"However, I note the issues identified regarding concerns for the quality of educational provision of those pupils currently receiving English-medium provision while it is phased out, along with concerns regarding the educational and financial sustainability of the proposed future Irish-medium provision."

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