One-in-three Irish language schools in Northern Ireland are failing to provide satisfactory education for their pupils, it can be revealed.
Calls have now been made for an inquiry into the provision of Irish language education after it emerged that seven schools were forced to put urgent action plans in place after being rated unsatisfactory by inspectors are in the Irish medium (IM) sector.
The Belfast Telegraph can today reveal the full list of schools in Northern Ireland on the Department of Education's formal intervention programme over critical inspection reports.
The 18 schools include seven controlled, two integrated, two Catholic maintained and seven IM schools. The seven amount to a third of IM schools in the province.
Sean O Coinn, chief executive of Comhairle na Gaelscolaíochta (CnaG) — the body responsible for promoting the Irish-medium sector in Northern Ireland — blamed years of under-resourcing of Irish schools for the results.
All 18 schools on the list have submitted — or are working on — action plans and will continue to be monitored over a 12 to 18-month period.
Although the results of individual inspection reports are available on the Department of Education website, until now there has been no comprehensive list of schools forced to put action plans in place by inspectors.
The Department of Education refused to identify the schools in April when asked by the Belfast Telegraph, but has now published them in response to a Freedom of Information (FoI) request by this paper.
DUP MLA Mervyn Storey, who chairs the Assembly’s education committee, said: “These figures are very alarming and clearly there is a major problem within the Irish medium sector.
“An inquiry must now be carried out into the way these schools are being looked after and funded by the Education Minister.
“This is not an attack on the Irish medium sector. Serious problems have been found by the inspectors and we need to make sure that the standard of education for the children in these schools is not suffering.”
Mr Storey added that all of the schools in formal intervention must be given the help and support they need.
As Education Minister Caitriona Ruane has championed the Irish medium sector — including provision of £2m accommodation fund for schools in the Irish medium sector in March this year.
In January she hosted a reception at Parliament Buildings to mark 40 years of IM provision here.
Mr O Coinn said: “The IM schools in the intervention process are there as a result of the failure of the department and its statutory agencies over a long number of years to provide adequate support for fledgling schools in their early years of development.
“When eventually funded, several of these schools were accommodated in woefully inadequate accommodation, which was frequently commented on by the inspectors. As a result several of these schools had to use their staffing budgets to fund accommodation rental costs.
“Currently, only three of the 21 IM schools are in permanent, purpose-built schools. Several schools have had no access to school dinners or an assembly hall for decades.”
Mr O Coinn said “years of under-resourcing” have also resulted in a disproportionate number of young and inexperienced teachers among teaching staff and school principals.
He said that the recently-published Irish medium review highlighted the need for improved levels of professional support for IM teachers and principals, and stressed that much has changed since the department began to focus on addressing the needs of Irish medium schools.
Dr Chris Hughes, head of standards and improvement at the Department of Education, responded to the FoI request.
In his written response, he said that the department’s policy for school improvement sets out a very clear commitment to support schools to improve outcomes for pupils.
“(This) includes a requirement to provide focused support for schools which, as a result of inspection, are found to be offering less than satisfactory provision for their pupils.”
The Belfast Telegraph asked the Department of Education for further comment but they declined.
To access the reports on individual schools, go to www.deni.gov.uk and click on the ‘Inspection reports’ link on the right of the web page.