Northern Ireland

Teaching jobs in Irish schools show language learning is of use

Diarmaid Ua Bruadair, principal of Gaelcholáiste Dhoire. Picture by Mal McCann
Diarmaid Ua Bruadair, principal of Gaelcholáiste Dhoire. Picture by Mal McCann

YOUNG people often decide not to opt for Irish when they are making their examination choices in favour of other more ‘useful’ subjects. The age old mantra of "sure what use is Irish to you?" is trotted out by parents, grandparents and indeed it is still not unheard of for teachers, and even career advisors, to share a similar opinion.

What many people fail to recognise is the fact that there are a wide range of opportunities for Irish speakers in media, community development, youth work, the public sector and in education.

The education sector is leading the way in providing these opportunities – the Irish-medium primary sector has doubled over the course of the last seven years and continues to expand rapidly and the IM post-primary sector is set to do likewise over the coming five years.

The expansion of the sector has provided a very valuable career pathway to young Irish speakers. The facts are that Irish is by far the most useful modern language in relation to securing employment in Ireland in the 21st century with hundreds of job opportunities over the coming five years. There is an annual need for teachers within the sector that is not currently being met and there is a growing need for more young people to study Irish at school and to continue their education path with Irish to third level.

With the growth in the IM post-primary sector there is a growing need for Irish speakers with specialist subjects and opportunities await teachers who also have studied science, maths, technology, music, art etc. whilst continuing to study Irish.

Gaelcholáiste Dhoire want young people to be aware of the increasing opportunities that are emerging for employment in the Irish-medium education sector and are working closely with DE, EA, Comhairle na Gaelscolaíochta and third level institutions to ensure that pathways to those positions are provided.

Schools within the IME sector have had to be innovative in meeting the challenges. Gaelcholáiste Dhoire hopes to support teachers from the English-medium sector who have a good level of spoken Irish but lack confidence, to make who would be interested in making the transition to Irish-medium with the help of a transitional support programme. This would support teachers in developing their language skills in relation to terminology for their particular subject(s) and by adding to their overall oral and written fluency in the language.

Gaelcholáiste Dhoire has grown from 13 pupils in 2015 to 180 in Sept 2019. It is predicted that the school will grow to 500 pupils in six years time. Each year over the next number of years the school will require 3-5 new teachers and it is envisaged that this will be mirrored across the north as a new post primary campus is planned for north Belfast and other areas may follow suit. IME post-primary units are constantly working to increase the percentage of the curriculum that is being delivered through Irish.

There are currently a range of training opportunities for young teachers and for graduates who are considering entering the teaching profession.

St Mary's University College has served the Irish-medium primary sector well, with both BEd and PGCE programmes delivering a steady supply of teachers.

St Mary's also currently provides an enhancement certificate to post-primary PGCE students from Ulster University and QUB who have graduated with a range of subjects, who have good spoken Irish and who wish to train for the IME sector.

The sector is working closely with the third level institutions to expand the range of opportunities over the coming years and to tailor these to the needs of the sector.

Gaelcholáiste Dhoire is also currently developing a transition programme for subject-specialist teachers within the English-medium sector who have a good level of spoken Irish and who would be interested in transitioning to the Irish-medium sector. This approach has been triggered by a recent study visit to the Basque country where IME school leaders and DE officials were appraised of a very successful transition scheme where teachers employed within the Spanish-medium sector were provided with a transition programme to allow them to transfer from the Spanish-medium into the Basque sector.

This approach provided an insight into how subject specialists in particular who have a good level of spoken Irish could be provided with a programme to transition into the Irish-medium sector. Educationalists in Scotland have employed similar targeted efforts to build capacity in the Gaelic education system. The Gaelic Immersion For Teachers programme provides a pathway from English to Gaelic-medium.

Gaelcholáiste Dhoire has recently advertised for teachers who would be interested in this approach.

The myth that Irish is of no benefit in seeking employment needs to be dispelled. The IME sector is one area in which there will be an increasing number of employment opportunities - teachers, support staff, education support etc.

An IME teacher can work in both the English and Irish-medium sectors - which means more opportunities. A young person with a passion for science and a passion for Irish can find fulfilling and well-paid employment in the Irish-medium sector. It is important that careers advisors make students who are choosing GCSE and A-levels aware of the opportunities that being an Irish speaker can present.

:: Diarmaid Ua Bruadair is principal of Gaelcholáiste Dhoire in Dungiven.