Irish and Polish in a New Context of Diversity in Northern Ireland’s Schools

Open access


While Modern Languages are in decline generally in the United Kingdom’s post-primary schools, including in Northern Ireland (Speak to the Future 2014), the international focus on primary languages has reawakened interest in the curricular area, even after the ending in 2015 of the Northern Ireland Primary Modern Languages Programme which promoted Spanish, Irish and Polish in primary schools. This paper will consider the situation in policy and practice of Modern Languages education, and Irish in particular, in Northern Ireland’s schools. During the years of economic growth in the 1990s Ireland, North and South, changed from being a country of net emigration to be an attractive country to immigrants, only to revert to large-scale emigration with the post-2008 economic downturn. While schools in Great Britain have had a long experience of receiving pupils from diverse ethnic and linguistic backgrounds, firstly from the British Empire and Commonwealth countries, Northern Ireland did not attract many such pupils due to its weaker economic condition and the conflict of the Northern Ireland Troubles. The influx from Poland and other Accession Countries following the expansion of the European Union in 2004 led to a sudden, significant increase in non-English speaking Newcomer pupils (DENI 2017). The discussion in Northern Ireland about a diverse democracy has hitherto concentrated on the historical religious and political divide, where Unionist antipathy led to the Irish Language being dubbed the ‘Green Litmus Test’ of Community Relations (Cultural Traditions Group 1994). Nevertheless, the increasing diversity can hopefully ‘have a leavening effect on a society that has long been frozen in its “two traditions” divide’ (OFMDFM 2005a: 10). This paper will revisit the role and potential of Irish within the curricular areas of Cultural Heritage and Citizenship. An argument will also be made for the importance of language awareness, interculturalism and transferable language learning skills in Northern Ireland’s expanded linguistic environment with a particular focus on Polish.

Aronin, Larissa and David Singleton. 2008. “Multilingualism as a New Linguistic Dispensation”, International Journal of Multilingualism, 5(1), 1-16.

ACCAC: Awdurdod Cymwysterau, Cwricwlwm ac Asesu Cymru/Qualifications, Curriculum and Assessment Authority for Wales. Developing the Curriculum Cymreig. Available at: (accessed 23 November 2016).

Baker, Colin. 2006. Foundations of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism (4th ed.). Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

Belfast Telegraph. 2011. “Ruane: Teach Irish in every Northern Ireland school”. Belfast Telegraph, 21 March 2011.

Board, Kathryn and Teresa Tinsley. 2015. Language Trends 2014/15 The state of language learning in primary and secondary schools in England. Available at: (accessed 30 October 2016).

Board, Kathryn and Teresa Tinsley. 2017. Language Trends 2016/17 Language teaching in primary and secondary schools in England. Survey Report. British Council. Available at: (accessed 7 July 2017).

Board, Kathryn and Teresa Tinsley. 2017. Language Trends Wales 2016/17 The state of language learning in secondary schools in Wales. British Council Wales/Cymru. Available at: (accessed 7 July 2017).

British Council. 2014. Year of the Horse Education Pack. Available at: (accessed 23 November 2016).

British Council. 2017. Year of the Rooster Education Pack. Available at: (accessed 7 July 2017).

Bullock, Sir Alan. 1975. A Language for life: Report of the Committee of Enquiry appointed by the Secretary of State for Education and Science under the Chairmanship of Sir Alan Bullock FBA. London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office 1975.

Burns, Stephanie, Ruth Leitch and Joanne Hughes. 2015. Education Inequalities in Northern Ireland, Summary Report March 2015 Belfast: School of Education Queen’s University Belfast

Comhairle na Gaelscolaíochta. n.d. GaelTrail. Available at: (accessed 23 November 2016).

CCEA. Northern Ireland Curriculum. 2007. The Northern Ireland Curriculum Primary Statutory Document. Available at: (accessed 23 November 2016).

CCEA. Northern Ireland Curriculum. n.d. Languages are Child’s Play: Guidance for Primary Teachers and Managers on a Successful Introduction to Early Language Teaching and Learning. Available at: (accessed 23 November 2016).

CCEA. 2016. Primary Irish: Aspects of Shared Cultural Heritage. Available at: (accessed 7 July 2017).

CILT. European Award for Languages UK. 2008. Available at: (accessed 16 January 2011).

CSO/NISRA. 2011. Census 2011: Ireland and Northern Ireland. Available at: (accessed 23 November 2016).

Collen, Ian, Eugene McKendry and Leanne Henderson. 2017. The Transition from Primary Languages Programmes to Post-Primary Language Provision. Belfast: QUB, NICILT.

Comhairle na Gaelscolaíochta (n.d.) GaelTrail. Béal Feirste: Comhairle na Gaelscolaíochta. Available at: (accessed 7 July 2017)

Cultural Traditions Group. 1994. Giving voices: the work of the Cultural Traditions Group 1990-1994. Belfast: Community Relations Council.

De Brún, F. 2010. ‘”Ulsteria”: the fortunes of the Irish language under Stormont, 1921-72’ in A.F. Parkinson and E. Phoenix, (eds.) Conflicts in the North of Ireland 1900-2000. Dublin: Four Courts Press. 202-222.

Department for Education (England). 2016. Press release: Community languages saved to ensure diverse curriculum continues. Department for Education and The Rt Hon Nicky Morgan 22 April 2016. Available at: curriculum-continues (accessed 7 July 2017).

Department of Education Northern Ireland (DENI). 1974. Primary Education Teachers’ Guide. Belfast: HMSO.

DENI. 1988a. Education in Northern Ireland: proposals for reform. Bangor: DENI.

DENI. 1988b. The Way Forward. Bangor: DENI.

DENI. 2011. Summary of responses to the public consultation document. Available at: (accessed 23 November 2016).

DENI. 2015. Sharing Works: A Policy for Shared Education. Available at: (accessed 23 November 2016).

DENI. Personal e-mail communication. Home Language of newcomer pupils, 2016/17. 25/08/2017.

DENI 2017a. School Enrolments-Summary Data. 2016. Newcomer pupils 2001/02 to 2015/16. Available at: data (accessed 11 February 2017).

DENI. 2017b. Statistical Bulletin 2/2017 Annual enrolments at schools and in funded preschool education in Northern Ireland, 2016/17. Available at: (accessed 30 July 2017).

DENI. 2017c. Newcomer pupils by school type, 2011/12 - 2016/17 Available at: (accessed 7 July 2017)

Devine, D. 2011a “Securing migrant children’s educational well-being: Perspectives on policy and practice in Irish schools”. In M. Darmody, N. Tyrell and S. Song (eds.) The Changing Faces of Ireland: Exploring the Lives of Immigrant and Ethnic Minority Children. Rotterdam/Boston/Taipei: Sense Publishers. 73-88.

Devine, D. 2011b. Immigration and schooling in the Republic of Ireland: making a difference? Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Education Scotland/Foghlam Alba. n.d. Studying Scotland/Ionnsachadh Alba. Available at: (accessed 23 November 2016).

Education Support for Northern Ireland. n.d. Inclusion and Diversity Service (IDS). Available at: (accessed 23 November 2016).

Eur-Lex. Access to European Union Law. Council Regulation (EU, Euratom) 2015/2264 of 3 December 2015. Available at: (accessed 7 July 2017).

European Commission: Languages - European Language Label. 2008. Szacunek/Meas - Respect. Available at: (accessed 7 July 2017).

European Commission (EC). 2008. Green Paper. Migration and mobility: Challenges and opportunities for EU education systems. Brussels: EU.

European Commission (EC). 2009. Commission staff working document. Results of the consultation on the education of children from a migrant background. Brussels:EU.

European Union. 2016. Rules governing the languages of the Institutions. Available at: (accessed 16 November 2016).

Gael Linn. Available at: (accessed 23 November 2016.

Great Britain and Northern Ireland. 1989. Education Reform (Northern Ireland) Order 1989. (ERNIO) Belfast: HMSO.

Guardian, The. 2016. “Poland PM and Theresa May discuss teaching Polish in UK schools”. The Guardian, 29 November 2016.

HMI 1987 Curriculum matters 8: Modern Foreign Languages to 16. London: HMSO.

HMSO Northern Ireland Primary Education: Teachers’ Guide 1974. Belfast: HMSO.

Hunt, Marilyn J., Ann Barnes, Bob Powell, Geoff Lindsay and Daniel Muijs. 2005. “Primary modern foreign languages: an overview of recent research, key issues and challenges for educational policy and practice”. Research Papers in Education, 20(1): 371-390.

Integrate Ireland Language and Training & Southern Education and Library Board. 2007. Together towards inclusion: Toolkit. Dublin & Armagh.

Irish News. 1989. “Celebrations as Mawhinney axes Irish proposals”. Irish News, 22 March 1989.

Lee, Jeff, David Buckland and Glenis Shaw.1998. The Invisible Child. London: CILT.

McKendry, Eugene. 1981. “Múineadh na Gaeilge i mBunscoileanna an Tuaiscirt”, Teagasc na Gaeilge, 2: 65-71.

McKendry, Eugene. 2007. “Minority-Language Education in a Situation of Conflict: Irish in English-Medium Schools in Northern Ireland”, International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 10(4): 394-409.

Niessen, Jan and Thomas Huddleston. 2009. Handbook on integration for policy-makers and practitioners. Brussels: European Commission.

Nikolov, Marianne. 1999. “Why do you learn English? Because the teacher is short. A study of Hungarian children's foreign language learning motivation”. Language Teaching Research, 3(1): 33-56.

Northern Ireland Curriculum. n.d. Who am I? Local and Global Citizenship Unit. This is who I am. Available at: (accessed 23 November 2016).

Northern Ireland Curriculum Council (NICC). 1989. Cultural Heritage: A Cross-Curricular Theme - Consultation Paper. Belfast: NICC.

Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA). 2012 Census 2011. Key Statistics for

Northern Ireland. Available at: (accessed 23 November 2016).

Nuffield Foundation. 2000. Languages: The Next Generation. The final report and recommendations of the Nuffield languages inquiry. London: The Nuffield Foundation.

Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM). 2005a ‘A Shared Future’ The Framework for Good Relations in Northern Ireland. Belfast: OFMDFM.

OFMDFM. 2005b. A Racial Equality Strategy for Northern Ireland 2005-2010. Belfast: OFMDFM.

OFMDFM. 2006. A Shared Future: First Triennial Action Plan 2006-09. Belfast: Community Relations Unit OFMDFM

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). 2006. Where Immigrant Students Succeed - A Comparative Review of Performance and Engagement in PISA 2003. Available at: (Accessed 23 November 2016)

Polish Educational and Cultural Association (n.d.) (accessed 23 November 2016).

Primary Modern Languages Programme (PMLP) Available at: (accessed 23 November 2016).

Russell, Raymond. 2016. International Migration in Northern Ireland: an Update. Belfast: Research and Information Service, Northern Ireland Assembly. Available at: (Accessed 7 July 2017)

Speak to the Future: The Campaign for Languages. 14 August 2014. What is happening to languages at A-level? Available at: (accessed 7 July 2017)

Tonkin, Humphrey. 2003.’The search for a global linguistic strategy’ in Jacques Maurais and Michael A. Morris (eds.) Languages in a Globalizing World. Cambridge: Cambridge Press, 319-333.

Journal Information


All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 0 0 0
Full Text Views 569 569 27
PDF Downloads 112 112 10