Exemption from Irish
The Department of Education allows students to apply to be excused from studying Irish in English-medium primary and secondary schools. Exemptions from the study of Irish do not apply in Gaelscoileanna (where Irish is the language of instruction).
A student will only be given this 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.
Changes to criteria for granting exemptions from Irish for the 2019/2020 school year
Following a public consultation in 2019, revised criteria for granting exemptions from Irish take effect from the beginning of the 2019/2020 school year. Information about primary schools is in Circular 52/2019 Revising Circular 12/96 on Exemptions from the Study of Irish (pdf). Information about secondary schools is in Circular 53/2019 Revising Circular M10/94 on Exemption from the Study of Irish (pdf).
If your child has an existing exemption from the study of Irish granted under Circulars 12/96 and M10/94, the exemption will continue to apply until the end of their second-level education – see ‘Rules for exemption from the study of Irish’ below.
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. The student applying for a third-level course through the Central Applications Office (CAO) should send a copy of the exemption certificate with his/her CAO application form.
Rules for exemption from the study of Irish
Exempting a student from the study of Irish is only considered in exceptional circumstances. The decision to exempt a student is made by the principal of the school following detailed 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.
Who can apply for an exemption from the study of Irish?
The categories of student who may apply to be exempted from the study of Irish include:
- Students whose primary education up to 12 years of age was received outside the State and who did not have the opportunity to study Irish.
- Students who were enrolled in an Irish primary or secondary school and are now enrolling again after having been abroad. The student must have been abroad for at least 3 years. The student must be at least 12 years of age when re-enrolling.
- Children of foreign diplomatic or consular representatives in Ireland.
- Students who have at least reached second class and meet all of the
- Have significant learning difficulties that are persistent despite
having had access to a differentiated approach to language and literacy
over time. This should be documented in a Student Support Plan.
- Have a standardised score at or below the 10th percentile in word reading, reading comprehension or spelling, at the time of the application for exemption.
- Have significant learning difficulties that are persistent despite having had access to a differentiated approach to language and literacy over time. This should be documented in a Student Support Plan.
Automatic exemption for special schools and special classes in mainstream schools
Under the revised criteria for granting exemptions from the study of Irish, students in special schools and in special classes in mainstream schools are automatically exempted and do not have to make a formal application for a certificate of exemption. School authorities have autonomy and discretion to make decisions about the Irish language learning needs of these students. However, schools are expected and encouraged to give these 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.
You can get information about the rules on exemptions that applied before the 2019/2020 changes in Circular 12/96 Revision of Circular 18/79 on Exemption from the Study of Irish(pdf) (for primary schools) and in Circular M10/94(pdf) (for secondary schools). Students who have an existing exemption from the study of Irish granted under Circulars12/96 and M10/94 can continue to avail of it until the end of their second-level education.
How to apply for an exemption from the study of Irish
The application for exemption is made by the parent or guardian to the school principal. The application should state the reasons why the exemption is being sought. Children will only be considered for exemptions who meet the criteria set out above.
The parent or guardian 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.
Where an exemption is granted, a certificate of exemption, signed by the school principal, is issued to the parent or guardian.
Evidence of a disability
In the past, if the exemption was sought on the grounds of a disability, the parent or guardian was required to supply evidence of the disability from a qualified psychologist or a report from an appropriate medical specialist.
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 being sought on the grounds of a significant and persistent learning difficulty, the student must have a standardised score at or below the 10th percentile in only one literary 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).
The school must keep documentary evidence for students with special educational need in the Student Support Plan. The plan should detail:
- Regular reviews of learning needs as part of an ongoing cycle of assessment
- 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.
Appealing 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.
Where to apply
You should apply to the school principal for your child to be exempted.