Exemption from studying Irish

What is an exemption from studying Irish?

Irish is one of the core subjects in the school curriculum in Ireland. Most students must study Irish.

The Department of Education allows students to apply for an exemption from studying Irish in primary and secondary schools. Exemptions do not apply in schools where Irish is the language of instruction (Gaelscoileanna).

If a student is exempt, it means they do not have to study Irish.

A student will only be given an exemption in very limited circumstances. If a student has lived abroad or does not speak English, they may be exempted. Students with significant learning difficulties or students in special schools and in special classes in mainstream schools may also be exempted.

If students are granted an exemption, they can choose to study Irish and still return to using the exemption at a later date.

Exemption from 2022-2023

From the start of the school year 2022/2023, the Department of Education sets out the exemptions from studying Irish in primary school in Circular 54/2022 and in post primary school in Circular 55/2022. They replace previous circulars.

The rules include a new exemption for students who experience a high level of multiple and persistent needs – see below ‘Rules for granting exemptions from Irish’

Exemptions held under previous circulars

If your child has an existing exemption from the study of Irish granted under previous circulars, the exemption will continue to apply until the end of your child’s second-level education – see ‘Rules for exemption from the study of Irish’ below.

The previous circulars on the exemption of Irish are:

Applications processed up to 31 Aug 2022 may be processed under the terms of the new circulars or under the previous circulars, depending on what best suits the student.

Irish language requirements for third-level courses

If entry to a third-level course requires a student to have a certain mark in Irish at the Leaving Certificate examination, students who have been exempted from the study of Irish may also be exempted from this requirement. This is a matter for each individual college. If you are applying for a third-level course through the Central Applications Office (CAO), you should send a copy of the exemption certificate with your CAO application form.

The college may also ask you to complete a separate exemption application form and to submit supporting documentation. You should check with the individual college for details on how to apply for an exemption.

Who can apply for an exemption from studying Irish?

Your child will only be considered for exemption from studying Irish in exceptional circumstances.

The decision to exempt a student is made by the principal of the school following discussion with a student’s parents or guardians, the class teacher, special education teachers and the student themselves. If an exemption is granted, parents and students have the option not to avail of the exemption and do not lose the right to exercise it in the future.

Students who can get an exemption from the study of Irish include:

  • Students who are enrolling after completing a full course of primary education outside the State, and who did not have the opportunity to study Irish
  • Students aged 12 or over whose education was received outside the State for at least 3 consecutive years, and they did not have the opportunity to study Irish
  • Children of foreign diplomatic or consular representatives in Ireland

Students with literacy difficulties

Students who have at least reached second class and meet all of the following conditions can also get an exemption:

  • Students who have significant literacy difficulty that persists after having access to a differentiated approach to language and literacy over time. This should be documented in a Student Support Plan.
  • Students with a standardised score at or below the 10th percentile in word reading, reading comprehension or spelling.

Students with multiple and persistent needs

Students who have at least reached second class and meet all of the following conditions can get an exemption:

  • Have a high level of significant, multiple and persistent needs that affect their learning and participation
  • Whose school has substantial written evidence that the needs persist despite a Student Support Plan which has been implemented for at least 2 years
  • Students must have been given every reasonable opportunity to learn Irish in mainstream classes
  • The principal is satisfied that giving an exemption is in the best interests of the student

What are multiple and persistent needs?

Multiple and persistent needs are enduring and severe in nature and significantly impact the students daily functioning at school. Their needs cause significant stress to the student in school despite a programme of support.

Exemption for special schools and special classes in mainstream schools

The following students are automatically exempted and do not need to apply for a certificate of exemption:

  • Students in special schools and in special classes in mainstream schools
  • Students who have previously enrolled in a special school or class
  • Students who are eligible and have been recommended to enrol in a special school or class.

School authorities can make decisions about the Irish language learning needs of these students. However, schools are expected to give students opportunities to take part in Irish language and cultural activities.

You can read more about the exemption from Irish in the Department of Education’s FAQ for parents.

How to apply for an exemption from studying Irish

You can apply for an exemption for your child to the school principal. You should include the reasons why you are applying for the exemption. Children will only be considered for exemptions who meet the criteria set out above.

You must attach documentary evidence of the student's age, and previous schooling if it is relevant to the reason for the exemption being sought.

The school authorities must confirm the outcome of the application, in writing, within 21 days of receiving the application.

You will be issued a certificate of exemption signed by the school principal if an exemption is granted.

Evidence of a disability

From the 2019/2020 school year, psychological assessments and cognitive ability (IQ) scores are no longer needed when applying for exemption from the study of Irish.

If the exemption is sought on the grounds of a literacy difficulty, the student must have a standardised score at or below the 10th percentile in only one literacy attainment test in either word reading, reading comprehension or spelling. You can read more about standardised test instruments in the Department of Education’s Guidance on the selection of discrete tests of literacy attainment in English (pdf).

Student Support Plan

The school must keep documentary evidence for students with special educational need in the Student Support Plan. The plan should include:

  • Regular reviews of learning needs as part of an ongoing cycle of assessment
  • Target-setting
  • Intervention and review including test scores in word reading, reading comprehension, spelling or other scores of language or literacy

Students in special schools and in special classes in mainstream schools are automatically exempted from studying Irish.

How to appeal a decision

If you think that you have been unjustly refused an exemption for your child, you can appeal the school’s decision to the Irish Exemptions Appeal Committee (IEAC). You must appeal within 30 days from the date you are notified in writing of the school’s decision.

The committee will consider the grounds given for the refusal, the Department’s criteria for exemption and any supporting documentation available to the school at the time of the decision.

You can get information and an Irish exemption appeal form for primary school and post-primary school on gov.ie

Where to apply

You should apply to the school principal for your child to be exempted.

Department of Education

Parents, Learners and Database Section,
Schools Division,
Cornamaddy,
Athlone,
County Westmeath.

Tel: (090) 648 4269
Page edited: 19 September 2022