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Irish language sector has doubled in numbers in last decade

By Rebecca Black

There is currently just one Irish-medium secondary school in Northern Ireland - Choláiste Feirste in Belfast.

There is also Gaelscoil na Daróige in Derry city, an independent school that teaches through the medium of Irish.

In terms of younger children, there are 28 Irish language primary schools in Northern Ireland.

However, 10 mainstream schools also cater for young speakers of the tongue with Irish-medium units.

Seven of these are at primary schools and three are at post-primary schools.

According to the Department of Education, there are 60 vacant places in the stand-alone secondary school and 952 in the 28 primary schools.

However, the sector is growing with the number of pupils being taught through the medium of Irish having almost doubled in the last 10 years to just under 5,000 - 830 of which are in secondary education.

Department figures from 2012/13 showed more young children being educated in Irish.

There were then 803 children attending Irish-medium pre-school settings, 3,061 primary school children (years 1-7) and 769 in post-primary school years (years 8-14).

Last year the Education Minister set up an advisory group on the future of Irish-medium post-primary education which reported back 33 recommendations last month.

They included research to find out how many parents would be interested in sending their children to Irish-medium schools, exploring cross-border provision in Fermanagh and bursaries for teachers to become proficient in Irish.

The advisory group report called for a planned approach to the growth of the sector, including where any new secondary schools should be located.

It also said parents need to be reassured there are enough Irish speaking teachers for specialist subjects, such as the sciences.

Education Minister John O'Dowd then acknowledged the current financial problems facing the Northern Ireland Executive would have to be taken into account when planning new school places.

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