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Parents speak out over Irish language schools

Parents of pupils attending Irish-medium schools have spoken out after it emerged that a third of schools in the sector have been rated unsatisfactory by inspectors.

The Belfast Telegraph yesterday revealed details of the 18 schools put into the formal intervention process following critical reports by the Education and Training Inspectorate. Seven are Irish language schools.

All of the schools have submitted — or are working on — action plans and will continue to be monitored over a 12 to 18-month period.

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.

Karen Scallon from Gortin has four daughters — Dearbhla (10), Bronach (8) and Ursula (7) attend Gaelscoil Na Gcrann in Omagh, and Aoibhinn (4) is due to start at the school in September.

Karen said: “The problems identified in the inspectors’ report would definitely have applied last year but this year it is completely different. There is a new principal, a completely new teaching regime and the inspectors have been in the school to make sure that all the changes needed have been made.

“This time last year I was thinking of taking my children out of the school but we stuck with it and it is now back on track and the children are doing really well.

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“It took a lot of work but we got the school back on its feet quickly. Within a month of the new school year, things were much better.

“I am so relieved and my children are very happy, confident children as a result.

“We are now kept well informed and nothing is hidden from us. It is a completely different place compared with last year and pupil numbers are also going up.”

Karen admits that she and her husband “haven’t a word of Irish”.

Her eldest daughter moved to Gaelscoil Na Gcrann after the Irish-medium unit at their local English-speaking school closed.

“The children’s homework is translated for me, we have been to homework classes and can also telephone the teachers if we need any help,” Karen added. “We did not choose an Irish-medium school for political or religious reasons.

“Our sole intention was for our children to be bilingual and to get their brains to work at the best rate we could. This has worked and we are delighted with how the girls are getting on now.”

Carrie Flannaghan is originally from America but now lives in Ballycastle where her two children — aged seven and nine — attend Bunscoil an Chaistil. This school is not in the formal intervention process.

She said: “We have been very encouraged by our experience of an Irish-medium school.

“Our school has been running for nearly 10 years so that breadth and depth of experience gives us a real advantage.

“They have been able to maintain small class sizes and a lot of hands on learning which are among the reasons why we chose the school for our children.

“Having my kids going through an education system which was not familiar to me was daunting so we did do our research and were open to all types of schools.

“We looked at bilingual education as a concept and were also impressed by the personable, approachable and accessible staff at the school.”

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