Anne McHugh, Donegal ETB Chief Executive
The Donegal Education and Training Board has expressed their concerns over the cuts to the assessment of spoken Irish in the new Junior Cycle exams.
In a letter to the acting chief executive officer of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, Anne McHugh, chief executive of the Donegal ETB, said, “The fact that the oral language should be included in the 10 per cent of a school-based assessment indicates to many that there is little or no value on the spoken language.”
Ms. McHugh wrote to the national council on behalf of the Donegal ETB board following the March ETB meeting, where board members expressed disappointment that there was no specified oral aspect as part of the assessment by the State Examinations Commission.
The new specification does not allow for an oral aspect in the final exam, but the council claimed it would be covered in a school-based assessment that would contribute to 10 per cent of exam marks. At present, the oral component of Junior Cert Irish exams can be 40 per cent of the marks.
The ETB revisited the issue at Monday’s ETB board meeting, when the letter Ms. McHugh sent to the national council on the board’s behalf was on the agenda.
Patsy McVicar, ETB board member and former principal of Pobalscoil Chloich Cheannfhaola in Falcarragh, said later that dropping assessment of spoken Irish in the Junior Cycle, “seems to go against the understanding that the most important element of any language is the spoken component.
“And if you are to do justice to that, you have to incentivize people to use it, and you’re not doing that by reducing potential marks available" for spoken Irish, he said.
Cllr. Albert Doherty, board member, said he believed the changes were not giving full respect to the language, or to heritage and identity.
In her letter to the national council, Ms. McHugh said the ETB board also believed the new Junior Cycle specifications for Irish was not consistent with the Policy for Gaeltacht Education, or with obligations on teachers in Gaeltacht areas regarding the preservation and promotion of Irish in the school and the local area.
“The board was adamant that the current specification for Gaeilge will have a detrimental effect on the spoken language in the country and, in particular, the Gaeltacht areas,” Ms. McHugh wrote.
ETB board member Philip McGlynn said the ETB tradition of promoting Irish adds weight to their concerns. Three of the ETB’s Irish-medium schools are outside the Donegal Gaeltacht, in Ballyshannon, Letterkenny, and Buncrana.
Cllr. Doherty also said he believed the ETB had the expertise to analyse the state of Irish in the county as part of its motion of the language.
“The onus is on us as the board of the ETB to be leaders of this and take it to the forefront,” Mr. McGlynn said.