Northern Ireland

Irish language pre-school report published three years on

Naíscoil Charn Tóchair near Maghera Image copyright Google
Image caption Naíscoil Charn Tóchair near Maghera

A report into Irish language pre-school education has been published almost three years after it was completed.

The research began in March 2015 and the finished report was delivered to the Department for Education (DE) in March 2016.

It recommended that the department considers increasing the number of statutory Irish language nurseries.

It also said there should be more curriculum and language support for Irish medium pre-schools.

The DE said it was in the process of preparing advice on the research for ministers to consider before the assembly was suspended in January 2017.

It said it had now decided to publish the report in the absence of a minister.

Sinn Féin's education spokesperson Karen Mullan called the delay "astonishing".

All children in Northern Ireland are offered a pre-school place funded by DE in their final year before entering primary school.

In 2017/18, there were around 23,500 funded pre-school pupils in a range of voluntary and private pre-school centres, statutory nursery schools and nursery units in primary schools.

Image copyright PA
Image caption About 6,200 children are educated through the Irish language in Northern Ireland

The research into the educational outcomes of pre-school pupils in the Irish-medium sector took place in 2015 and early 2016.

It was commissioned by the DE and carried out by consultants and three experts in early years Irish-medium education.

The final 90-page report said that the Irish-medium pre-schools sector "is a small but growing aspect of the education sector in Northern Ireland".

At the time the report was completed there were 43 Irish-medium pre-schools with almost 900 DE-funded pupils.

'Foundation stone'

That number is likely to have increased since then as, according to the most recent DE figures, 6,200 pupils of all ages were being educated in Irish in 2017/18, a rise of 1,500 since 2012/13.

The DE has a statutory duty to facilitate Irish-medium education.

The DE report said pre-school was the "foundation stone" of further learning in Irish but that some of the needs of pupils in Irish-medium pre-schools were different to those in English-only education.

"Particular approaches to learning, teaching and assessment are required so that the specific linguistic needs of pupils can be supported as well as their other developmental and learning needs," it said.

It identified a number of shortcomings in support for Irish language pre-schools and made a series of recommendations to improve this.

Image copyright Getty Images

'Significant increase'

These include more training and professional development for Irish-medium pre-school staff.

The report also said the DE should consider creating more statutory Irish language nursery schools.

Additionally, it said a more detailed Irish language curriculum should be developed for pre-schools and that there should be more language-specific resources for parents to use with young children outside school.

A DE spokesperson said it had invested in a range of support to the Irish medium pre-school sector through Comhairle na Gaelscolaíochta (council for Irish medium education) since the report was finished.

They also said that there had been a significant increase in statutory Irish-medium pre-school provision since then.

Obsolete?

However, Sinn Féin MLA Karen Mullan has called on the DE to explain why it took three years to publish the report.

"While I welcome the publishing of the Research on the Educational Outcomes of Pre-School Irish Medium Education, I find it quite astonishing that a report designed to benefit young children learning through the medium of Irish has taken three years to publish," she said.

"This raises the question - is the report and its recommendations out of date and obsolete?

"I would call on department to review urgently the findings of the report and implement any and all recommendations that remain valid."

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