A new report recommends that it be announced that funding will no longer be provided for a language assistant in any school that refuses to participate in the Gaeltacht Schools Recognition Scheme.
A new report to the Department of the Gaeltacht recommends fundamental changes to the Language Assistants Scheme.
The review by Sealbhú, a research center for Irish – medium education at DCU, also recommends that it be announced that funding will no longer be provided for a language assistant in any school that refuses to participate in the Gaeltacht Schools Recognition Scheme.
As previously reported here, some schools continue to benefit from the Gaeltacht language assistants’ scheme despite the fact that they are not interested in gaining recognition as a Gaeltacht school.
Among the other changes recommended in the Acquisition report, it is recommended that the language assistants have a longer stay in schools and that they be paid better wages.
It is said that the scheme, which was set up to help school children improve their Irish, but which changed in 2012 when there was also a focus on enriching the Irish of native speakers, is very uncertain.
The report states, Review of the Language Assistants Scheme, that there was a “strong view” that “clearer objectives and clearer guidance” would help schools to implement the Scheme. A syllabus framework and progress targets would help “the effective operation of the Scheme”, it said.
The report states that “the uncertainty over the continuity of the scheme from year to year creates many difficulties”.
“It is difficult to attract suitable candidates for the job and it is difficult to attract good assistants to stay in the role due to the uncertainty of the job.
“In addition, uncertainty prevents schools and administrations from planning long-term or medium-term planning,” say the authors of the research.
To address this uncertainty it is recommended that the scheme be set up on a “minimum three year cycle” basis.
The report also states that it is best to leave it to the schools themselves to distribute the hours of the assistants according to the needs of their pupils and their standard of Irish.
Almost half of the principals who took part in the research said that they were operating in schools in weak Gaeltacht areas and that few native speakers would attend these schools.
While 95% of language assistants indicated that they fully understand their role, uncertainty was also expressed about who decides on the allocation of assistant hours in schools and “what rationale is used in setting up the distribution” .
It is recommended that the assistants be in the schools from the beginning of the school year and that they have a period of 32 weeks instead of 26 weeks.
Assistants were at a rate of € 23 per hour but their pay was reduced to € 21.12 during the economic crisis in 2011. The report recommends that the rate of assistants be increased to € 23 per hour and that it be increased by as public service pay rises as a whole.
It is stated that it is “clear” that the scheme could not have been completed without the “experience and expertise” of Muintearas and Oidhreacht Chorca Dhuibhne, the two organizations that administer the scheme.
It is said that the role of the language assistant needs to be refined in writing in order to adapt the scheme to language planning and education policy for the Gaeltacht.
This work would be carried out by a new Advisory Committee which would look after the scheme and the necessary changes.
It is said that the assistants are doing “very important work” and that their richness of Irish and “their commitment to the promotion of the Irish language among the young people of the Gaeltacht” is obvious.
It is recommended that the Advisory Committee be established to ensure that the scheme “properly meets the needs of the pupils”.
It is said that the schools have a “great respect” for the Language Assistants Scheme and that they see it as very worthwhile.
“It could be read from some of the recommendations we have made above that schools have more responsibilities in the implementation of the Scheme. The research revealed some gaps in the quality assurance of the Scheme’s education. Appropriate expertise is located in schools and the Department of Education.
“The Gaeltacht Schools Recognition Scheme and the language support hours will greatly assist this process. Implementing some of the recommendations would require additional financial resources but we believe that it would be of great benefit to the work to extend the work time of the assistants and to provide a better basis for their training, ”said Review of the Language Assistants Scheme.