Northern Ireland

Study of building conditions in Irish language schools highlights ‘systemic under-provision’ in sector

Research commissioned by Comhairle na Gaelscolaíochta reveals the current state of a number of primary school buildings

Richard Pengelly (Education Authority CEO)  pictured with Maria Thomasson and  Seosamh Ó Coinne, both if Comhairle na Gaelscolaíochta at the report launch at the Guildhall, Derry
Richard Pengelly from the EA, pictured with Maria Thomasson and Seosamh Ó Coinne, both of Comhairle na Gaelscolaíochta, at the report launch at the Guildhall, Derry

A study of building conditions in almost 20 Irish language medium schools has found “systemic under-provision” in the sector.

Comhairle na Gaelscolaíochta (CnaG) commissioned the research to reveal the current state of a number oprimary school buildings across the north.

It has called for more action by the Department of Education (DE) to tackle issues relating to the condition of school buildings.

It said the study reveals “not one of the 17 surveyed schools met the areas recommended in the DE primary schools’ handbook limit of internal area”.

CnaG said “Irish-medium pupils, parents, educators and support staff deserve better than this”.

A spokesman said the results of the survey “reveals a systemic under-provision of an entire educational sector”.

He said “inappropriate and insufficient accommodation and infrastructure can affect the full and effective delivery” of the curriculum, with pupils with a statement of additional educational needs “particularly impacted by inadequate accommodation”.

“With special schools bursting at the seams, DE and the Education Authority (EA) have established Specialist Provision in Mainstream Schools (SPiMS),” he said.

“Currently, only six active SPiMS exist within the IME sector, all of which are located in Belfast.

“The interest from the IME sector to establish SPiMS classes has been overwhelmingly receptive and positive, however, due to the insufficient, inappropriate nature of the accommodation, most Gaelscoileanna have been deemed ineligible.”

He said there are further issues around the “understanding of SEN in a bilingual context” adding a “one-size-fits-all approach to SEN simply does not work when facilitating the learning of children with SEN in Irish whose parents may speak English at home”.

The CnaG spokesman also cited a “systemic lack of long-term planning” and “absence of a policy or strategy within DE to develop and facilitate the IME sector in a proactive rather than reactive manner” as some of the reasons for the issues.

CnaG said the sector has grown by over 50% in the last 10 years
CnaG said the sector has grown by over 50% in the last 10 years (Getty Images)

He said Irish-medium schools “face stagnation in capital investment, leading to deteriorating facilities and growing frustration among communities and parents due to delays in addressing their needs”.

“Additionally, the fund available to provide accommodation for new IME early years provision has not been replenished on a regular basis and is now almost non-existent, “ he added.

“As a result of this financial constraint and uncertainty, CnaG has been unable to appropriately support communities wishing to establish new IME provision in their local area in recent years.

“While DE has made significant capital investment in the IME sector over the years, this accommodation has usually been allocated on an ad-hoc basis in the absence of a long-term strategy or policy.”

A DE spokesman said: “Over the last 10 years, the department has invested significantly across Irish-medium schools, with announced major works projects totalling c.£60.4million.

“The department has also invested over £25million in minor capital works, ranging in size and scale across the Irish-medium sector.

“An Accommodation Fund was established in 2010 with a grant of £2 million to address accommodation deficiencies in the Irish-medium sector. 

“This fund has been replenished on a number of occasions and its scope has been expanded to include enabling works, health and safety works and land purchases. 

“The department is also working with the sector on options for the relocation of a number of Irish-medium primary schools that have outgrown their existing sites.”