Since the Celtic Tiger and particularly after EU expansion in 2004, Ireland has gained a reputation for being a warm and welcoming country for migrants from abroad. Virtually every hospital has Filipino nurses and Indian doctors; Polish plumbers are common across the country, and tech companies based in Ireland employ the best talent from around the world. However, for teachers in Ireland it is a little different.
There is a growing recognition that this needs to change to mirror the diversity that exists in Irish classrooms today. From my own personal experience, I have taught in classes where over 70 percent of the pupils were migrants or whose parents were migrants to Ireland.
Marino Institute of Education has undertaken research on this issue and has designed a programme to encourage and assist migrant teachers in Ireland establish themselves within their profession. The course is free and lasts four months.
The programme covers everything from school patronage, to curriculum and professional development in an Irish context.
Primary Education in Ireland
English and Irish are compulsory subjects, with some exemptions for Irish. Currently, these two subjects are being replaced with a new Language Curriculum that is being rolled out incrementally.
Because Irish is a compulsory subject, migrant teachers in Ireland often believe, or are misled to believe, that they cannot work in an Irish primary school. This is untrue. While they may find it difficult to find a position in a mainstream class, there are many opportunities to teach in Special Educational Needs (SEN) roles such as learning support and special class settings. It is common to find British teachers in Ireland holding these roles. With the serious shortage of primary teachers in Ireland at present, these opportunities are readily available. Principals might soon become more imaginative in allocating migrant teachers to a class while swapping with another teacher for Irish lessons where this is feasible.
Children attend primary school from the age of four or five to twelve or thirteen. The school day can start as early as 08:30 in some schools to 09:20 in others, generally rural schools. Each school is independently managed by a Board of Management. There are no school boards in Ireland as there are in other countries, although the new Community National Schools operate within a semi-school board structure.
Irish primary schools are often called National Schools and teachers were, and sometimes are, called National School teachers in Ireland. The National Schools were established by the British Government in 1831. Initially designed to be non-denominational, the rise of nationalism and unionism in the mid-nineteenth century led to increasing levels of control and influence by the churches.
By the early 20th century, virtually all schools were denominational so a town would invariably have Catholic, Church of Ireland and other schools. This situation has continued into modern times, and today almost 90 percent of schools have Catholic patronage, though this does not equate to 90 percent of pupils as many of these are two-teacher, rural schools.
A unique feature of Irish Catholic schools is the fact that First Communion and Confirmation preparation are an integral part of the school year. Teachers in Ireland teaching 2nd class will find themselves spending many hours from March to May preparing for Communion. Likewise, 5th or 6th class pupils who choose to be confirmed will practice both in school and the local church. There is growing disquiet about this issue, particularly in urban Catholic schools which have a large number of non-Catholic pupils.
There are other aspects which are unique to all Irish primary schools. Books are used as a resource for teaching in most schools. Teachers and pupils alike will use colloquial Irish expressions such as cé leis é? (who owns this?) or the famous an bhfuil cead agam dul go dtí an leithreas? (may I go to the bathroom?) The roll is often called in Irish: anseo means present and as láthair means absent.
Educate Together and non-denominational schools are becoming more and more common, mainly in large towns and cities. Students don’t wear school uniforms and have their own ethics and moral education. They learn about religions, while not being instructed in them. All staff members are on a first-name basis, including the principal.
Church of Ireland schools generally don’t have a school uniform either, and add the annual Harvest Festival, cake sales and choral singing to a vibrant curriculum. They maintain strong links with their parish and have a ‘village school’ character. There are also Muslim schools, a Jewish school and smaller Christian denominational schools in Ireland.
For more information on primary schooling in Ireland, why not visit our dedicated page on the topic.