Northern Ireland

Growing Irish language sector targeting teachers

Dungiven Castle, home to Gaelcholaiste Dhoire. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin
Dungiven Castle, home to Gaelcholaiste Dhoire. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin

THE growing Irish language sector has begun a drive to find more subject specialists who can deliver lessons `as Gaeilge'.

Secondary schools are hoping to encourage classroom staff in the English-medium sector, recent graduates and even those with some Irish to learn how to teach in the language.

The Irish-medium sector remains very small - about 3 per cent of the school age population - and its post-primary provision is relatively new.

In addition to Coláiste Feirste in Belfast, there are three units in English post-primaries and Gaelcholáiste Dhoire, which opened in Dungiven in 2015.

There are plans for a second post-primary in Belfast, to open in the north of the city.

Campaigners predict that the overall number of pupils will increase significantly.

Research from Comhairle na Gaelscolaíochta (CnaG) predicted an almost 100 per cent rise over a 15-year period.

In 2006/07, there were 3,660 children at Irish-medium schools. This increased to 5,873 in 2016. CnaG predicted that by 2021, this would rise to 7,220 - an increase of 97.23 per cent from 2006.

At post-primary level, schools find it difficult to attract teachers who are both subject specialists and can deliver in Irish - especially in science, technology, engineering, maths and music.

Gaelcholáiste Dhoire began with 13 pupils in 2015 and has already grown to 120. Staff numbers have also increased rapidly. It is seeking at least five new teachers.

Principal Diarmaid Ua Bruadair said traditionally teachers from the Republic would come north. However, the sector in the Republic is burgeoning, he said, with more than 50,000 pupils.

"The sector is in talks with the Department of Education regarding ways in which the issue can be addressed," he said.

"Initial teacher training - looking at ways in which that can be improved and increased for Irish-medium. Retraining - looking at ways in which the current workforce can be retrained to address the gaps.

"Irish language proficiency - exploring ways in which subject specialists in English-medium schools who have basic Irish can be supported to increase their proficiency in the language and to work in Irish-medium schools."

A joint department/Irish-medium principals study visit to the Basque country looked at ways in which the Basque Regional Government tackled the same problem over the course of the last 30 years.

Now 90 per cent of teachers can teach through the medium of the Basque language as well as Spanish.

"Lessons could well be learnt for NI context," Mr Ua Bruadair added.

"Jobs in the Irish-medium sector are available, however, people outside of the community are not aware of the possibilities that the sector has to offer. A technology teacher with Irish could work in an Irish or English-medium school."