Northern Ireland

Pupils with special needs being exempted from Irish classes in Republic

Thousands of children in the Republic are being exempted from learning Irish
Thousands of children in the Republic are being exempted from learning Irish

PUPILS with special educational needs are being exempted from Irish lessons in the Republic - but enrolling in other language classes.

Some parents are said to be hand-picking psychologists to get their children out of studying Irish.

While the vast majority of schoolchildren in the Republic take Irish, some are allowed to opt out.

Most exemptions are granted to those who have a special educational need which makes it difficult to study English and Irish.

Both languages are included as core subjects in the national curriculum.

Children with "serious intellectual impairment" including dyslexia or sensory issues can be exempt, according to the Republic's Department of Education and Skills.

However, the department found that some pupils were being excused for reasons not included in its circulars to schools.

In addition, it was found that the majority were taking German or French instead.

In 2016, the department said, almost 3,500 young people did not have to study Irish at Leaving Cert - a jump from 1,607 in 2003. At Junior Cert, the figure in 2016 was 4,750.

The department looked in detail at some secondary and primary schools were exemptions were granted.

It found some principals claiming that parents were "cherry-picking" private psychologists who would approve exemptions for disabilities not recognised in government circulars.

Two head teachers reported that parents were willing to pay privately for reports recommending an exclusion. Five of six secondary principals said exemptions were being granted "too readily and indeed erroneously in many instances".

A public consultation on the future direction of policy on the granting of Irish exemptions is due to end on Friday.