From modest beginnings...

Fifty years ago a group of pioneering parents established the first Irish-medium school with seven pupils on Belfast’s Shaw’s Road – known today as Bunscoil Phobal Feirste.

It is recognised that the establishment of the Shaw’s Road school was the initial spark that ignited interest and fuelled the growth of Irish-medium Education, which has continued to expand in the period since.

The sector has grown and developed from these very modest beginnings and is now amongst the most successful sectors of education across the country.

“Irish-medium education (IME) has become the preferred choice of education for an increasing number of parents throughout Ireland. Our schools follow the ‘immersion’ method of education which allows children to acquire the language naturally by being ‘immersed’ within the Irish language environment of an Irish-medium school,” said Ciarán Mac Giolla Bhéin, Príomhfheidhmeannach, Comhairle na Gaelscolaíochta.

“In the north, the same curriculum is delivered in ALL schools, which are subject to the same rigours of inspection by the Education Training Inspectorate.

“Irish-medium schools, however, provide children with the distinct advantage of acquiring a second language, whilst delivering the highest standards of English language learning as a core school subject, alongside all the other core-curriculum subjects.

“With over 800 children entering Primary 1 in Irish-medium schools each year - the highest numbers ever within the sector - a sharp rise from around 450 children per year in 2011 – the sector has grown by a phenomenal 68% in primary schools alone over the last ten years.

“The boom in numbers is not only confined to the Irish-medium primary schools, the total enrolment of IME post-primary pupils is now over the 1500 pupil mark – nearly double the figure 10 years ago,” he added.

“In total, there are over 7,500 children educated daily through the medium of Irish and allowing for this pattern of growth, those numbers will continue to rise with over 80 IME providers across Nursery, Primary and Post-Primary levels.

This growth reflects not only the success of the pupils within the sector and the high quality education and strong pastoral care and community ethos provided by IM schools, but also the ever-growing number of parents seeking to avail of the many benefits of an immersive education which develops bilingualism naturally for our children.

“As the majority of IME Schools are independent, multi-denominational or non-denominational, attracting increasing numbers of children from Protestant and other backgrounds, it is clear that the benefits of bilingualism are open to all across the community,” continued Ciaran.

This year saw the first IM Integrated provision emerge in East Belfast and the sector continues to break new ground as it expands.

“Furthermore, it shows the strong personal commitment of more and more parents choosing IME to give their child the #GiftOfIrish and the well-established benefits of early bilingualism. Be part of this journey, ar aghaidh linn!” concluded Ciaran.