Irish medium (IM) schools are located in bilingual communities known as the Gaeltacht, where residents of Gaeltacht areas speak Irish or Irish/English, these areas are located principally along the western seaboard. IM schools are also located outside of Gaeltacht areas in cities and small towns where English is the majority language of the community. These schools provide a form of immersion education where the curriculum is taught through Irish and the day-to-day language of instruction and communication of the school is Irish. A total immersion approach is adopted in IM schools and all subjects, with the exception of English language literacy lessons, are taught through the medium of Irish.
The focus of this DCU research collaboration was multilingual parents in IM primary schools outside of Gaeltacht areas. There is a lack of research available as to why multilingual parents choose IM education for their children and what the perceived benefits are. This study, which is the first of its kind, investigated 15 parents’ views in these areas using semi-structured interviews. The term multilingual parents is used in this paper to refer to parents who speak a home language to their children that is different from Irish or English. In this study, multilingual children or students are defined as those ‘who predominantly speak at home a language that is different from the majority language of instruction and who often start to learn the majority language systematically when they enter early-childhood education’.
The study also included families where one parent spoke English and the other parent spoke a language other than English. We focused on schools outside of the Gaeltacht as this is a particular linguistic context where the dominant language outside of school is English. Parents outside the Gaeltacht may have more choice in whether to choose an IM or an EM school for their children, whereas an IM school may be the only local choice for parents living in the Gaeltacht. The under-representation of children from linguistically diverse backgrounds in IM education is concerning, as IM schools do not reflect the linguistic and cultural diversity of the society in which they are located. Many IM schools are oversubscribed. Oversubscription to schools and admission policies may restrict representation from multilingual families in certain schools study of school sector variation in the RoI it was reported that the majority of IM schools (67%) had no ethnic minority students. It is also possible that parents who have recently arrived in Ireland may not have information about IM schools.