The Gaeltacht Schools Recognition Scheme arises from the Department of Education and Skill’s Policy on Gaeltacht Education 2017-2022 (DES, 2016), which, in turn, draws on the Government’s 20-year Strategy for the Irish Language 2010-2030 (Government of Ireland, 2010). The main objective of the Policy is to provide a high quality and relevant Irish-medium education for young people in Gaeltacht schools and, in this way, to support and encourage the use of Irish in Gaeltacht communities. Policy objectives include:
- Supporting and improving the quality of Irish-medium instruction in Gaeltacht schools and early years’ settings, so that Irish-medium instruction will be the first choice of parents in each of the Gaeltacht areas;
- Supporting appropriate Irish-medium educational provision for children and young people who are being raised through Irish; and
- Fostering innovation and excellence in the delivery of Irish-medium education.
Under the Policy, schools located in Gaeltacht language-planning areas may express interest in participating in the Gaeltacht School Recognition Scheme. In order to achieve recognition as a Gaeltacht school, schools are required to operate fully through the medium of Irish (with the exception of the English curriculum and other languages), as set out in the Policy’s language-based criteria. Schools are supported in their efforts to achieve recognition by the Gaeltacht Education Unit within the Department of Education and Skills. A particular feature of the scheme is a total immersion approach in the Infant classes in primary schools, where Irish is the sole medium of instruction.
The Educational Research Centre is working with the Gealtacht Education Unit to implement a multi-year evaluation of the scheme, which began in early 2018. There are 105 primary schools and 29 post-primary schools in the scheme. Advice on the work of the Unit, and hence, the ERC evaluation, is provided by the Advisory Committee for the Policy on Gaeltacht Education, chaired by the DES.
The study is longitudinal and uses mixed methods: survey questionnaires, assessment, and case studies. The tests to be administered combine existing instruments (post-primary) and the development of new tests (primary), which include speaking and listening tests. Outline:
- 2019: Baseline survey data collection, baseline focus groups, test development
- 2020: Longitudinal survey data collection, testing at First and Sixth classes (primary) and second year (post-primary)
- 2021: Longitudinal survey data collection
- 2022: Longitudinal survey data collection, testing at first and sixth classes (primary) and Third-year (post-primary), focus groups for teachers and parents
- Q2-Q3 2019: survey of principal teachers, class teachers, special needs teachers and language support teachers in all participating primary schools (wave 1)
- Q4 2019: focus group interviews involving teachers and parents in 12 primary and 6 post-primary ‘case study’ schools (wave 1)
- Q3-Q4 2019: development of a test of early literacy for Senior Infants, and tests of speaking and listening for Senior Infants and Sixth classes
- Piloting of tests of Early Literacy in First class and Speaking/Listening in First and Sixth classes in case study primary schools
- Administration of survey (on-line questionnaires) to principal teachers, teachers of Irish, teachers of other subjects, special education teachers and language teachers in post-primary schools (wave 1)
- Other activities planned for implementation in schools in Q2 have been postponed to Q3-4 due to the pandemic disease, Covid-19.
- Standardisation of tests of early literacy and speaking/listening in First class and speaking and listening in Sixth classes (wave 1)
- Implementation of pupil and parent questionnaires (First and Sixth classes) (wave 1)
- Administration of the Triail Dhroim Conrach don Léitheoireacht Ghaeilge in Third year in post-primary schools (wave 1)
- Administration of questionnaires to students in Third year and their parents (wave 1)
- Implementation of principal and teacher surveys in primary schools (wave 2).
- Administration of Triail TEG to Third-year students in post-primary schools (wave 1)
- Implementation of principal and teacher surveys in primary schools (wave 3).
- Implementation of survey of principals and other teachers in post-primary schools (wave 2)
- Implementation of teacher and parent focus group interviews in case-study schools (wave 2)
Key Deliverables (2020, 2021))
- Joint report with Inspectorate on implementation and impact of the scheme in 12 primary and 7 post-primary (case study) schools. This will incorporate a report on standards of Irish (speaking, listening) across case study post-primary schools, provided by the Centre of Irish Language Research, Teaching and Testing at NUI Maynooth, and data on performance in case study primary schools (accessed from the DES) and post-primary schools (accessed from the SEC).
- Report by the ERC based on surveys administered in 2019 to primary and post-primary schools.
- Report by the ERC drawing on data collected in 2020 including: survey of principals/teachers in primary schools (wave 2), questionnaires administered to children in senior infants and sixth class in primary schools and their parents, the outcomes of tests of early literacy and speaking/listening administered in primary schools, and the outcomes of the Irish reading test administered to students in Second year in post-primary schools and the questionnaires completed by the students themselves and by their parents. Where possible, outcomes will be compared to earlier (wave 1) work.