The Minister of Education has taken a decision to move Irish Paper 1 for the Leaving Cert to the end of 5th year in the Senior Cycle. This is a decision that has no educational basis and for which concern has been raised within the Department of Education itself as evidenced by information that has emerged through a recent freedom of information request.
Conradh na Gaeilge is calling on the Minister of Education to reverse this decision and to begin the development of an Irish Language Policy for Irish in the education system from pre-school to third level, as promised by Fianna Fáil in the general election in 2020, without further delay.
Information has been published today as a result of a freedom of information request put by Conradh na Gaeilge to the Department of Education about the basis of the decision to change the arrangements for Irish in the Leaving Cert for students who will be starting 5th year from September 2023 onwards. Those students will now have to do Irish paper 1 at the end of 5th year.
From the information acquired from the freedom of information request, it is not clear that there is any educational basis for the decision taken by the Minister of Education. Language skills between writing, reading, speaking and listening are acquired in an integrated manner over the two-year period of the senior cycle. Different media, literary texts, video and audio texts and texts from contemporary media are used to cover the course topics to prepare students for the Oral Test and the written tasks examined on the Irish Paper 1 (composition, listening comprehension). This proposal that some of the skills will be assessed at the end of the fifth year is at odds with best practice in relation to the integrated approach to the teaching of the various language skills.
Paula Melvin, President of Conradh na Gaeilge said:
“According to information obtained from the freedom of information request sent by the Conradh to the Department of Education regarding the decision to move Irish paper 1 to the end of year 5, it is clear that there was no educational basis for the decision and that there was no discussions with Irish language teachers about the implications of this change. Not only that, but it was very clear that the State Examinations Commissions were worried about the plan. They often said in correspondence that the specifications would need to be revised and adapted if Paper 1 was moved forward by more than a few weeks. They also mentioned the potential disadvantage for boys in terms of maturity when examining composition at the end of 5th year. We are surprised that the Department of Education went ahead with the proposal when these concerns were made known to them.”
Julian de Spáinn, General Secretary of Conradh na Gaeilge said:
“We are calling on the Minister for Education, Norma Foley, TD to reverse the decision she has taken to move Irish Paper 1 to the end of 5th year. In addition, we are calling on her to start the development of an Irish Language Policy for the education system from pre-school to third level, as Fianna Fáil promised in the general election in 2020 and which is referred to in the Government Programme, without further delay. We do not believe that any major changes should be made to the Irish language in the education system until this has been done.”
Information for the editor:
There is strong public support for a policy for Irish in the education system from pre-school to third level according to a survey carried out by Kantar i 2022 and 2019:
The following are the educational reasons why we believe your proposed change is unsuitable for this particular examination component.
Language skills between writing, reading, speaking and listening are acquired in an integrated manner over the two-year period of the senior cycle. Different media, literary texts, video and audio texts and texts from contemporary media are used to cover the course topics to prepare students for the Oral Test and the written tasks examined on the Irish Paper 1 (composition, listening comprehension). This proposal that some of the skills will be assessed at the end of the fifth year is at odds with best practice in relation to the integrated approach to the teaching of the various language skills..
It will not be possible to cover all the topics and language functions set out in the current syllabus for reading, listening and written language skills in one year. If this recommendation is introduced there will need to be a significant review of the content of the syllabus to be examined on Paper 1.
If Paper 1 is examined at the end of the fifth year, there will be no incentive for students to improve on or acquire further skills in the written language in the second year of senior cycle. The skills developed currently in the second year of the senior cycle greatly assist student progress in the spoken language. The Department of Education's Assistant General Secretary, Dalton Tatton, identified this problem of in a talk he gave at the JMB conference (reported by Emma O’Kelly on RTE on 1st November 2021) Dalton Tattan warned that continuous assessment could lead to the fragmentation of learning, that a student assessed on a component at the end of fifth year could think "finished with that now, I don't need to know that ever again. I can close the book". At the same conference, Andrea Feeney, head of the State Examinations Commission, also expressed concern about the unintended consequences of such changes.
Since 2012 40% of the marks in the Leaving Certificate Gaeilge are awarded for the Oral component, an exam which takes place two months before the Leaving Cert written examinations. The fact that the oral component comprises 40% of the marks for the entire exam reduces greatly the pressure associated with the two written papers in Irish. The situation regarding Irish cannot be compared with that of English, where 100% of the marks depend on performance in two written examinations.
There has been a significant reduction in the amount of literature to be studied for the Leaving Certificate since the introduction of the 40% for the Oral exam. This change was made in order that a greater emphasis be placed on the spoken language in the classroom, but the development of spoken language competence is closely linked to skills acquired in studying the written language (grammar, syntax, vocabulary). These skills enrich each other as they are developed in an integrated fashion in the classroom.
Since 2012 there has been an increase in the number of students undertaking Irish at Higher Level in the Leaving Certificate. Should this change be introduced it will create difficulties for those who choose Higher Level in the fifth year but have a change of mind in the sixth year for a variety of reasons. If students are unsure of what level is best suited for them at the beginning of the senior cycle, they are less likely to choose Higher Level.