Developing Teacher and Leadership Capacity in Irish Medium Education: An Analysis of Immersion Specific Competences (TLC IME)

TLC-IME English version of report for SCoTENS

TCL-IME Irish version of Report for SCoTENS

Irish-medium education (IME) is a form of bilingual education in which students receive subject matter instruction through the medium of a minority language, which they are learning at school. This type of education has grown significantly since the 1970s and in 2023-23 caters for 66477 pupils (i.e. 5%) in primary and post-primary schools throughout Ireland: 60.059 pupils in the Republic of Ireland (ROI) and 6,418 students in Northern Ireland (NI) (https://gaeloideachas.ie; https://www.comhairle.org/). In addition, the extensive network of Irish-medium (IM) feeder nurseries throughout the island provides an important foundation for IM primary education and is the access route for most families who chose IME. Notwithstanding their increased popularity and success, IME programmes remain complex to implement. Teachers are often challenged to rely on their own professional judgement and experience in the absence of research-informed resources like a language framework for pupils or a comprehensive inventory of immersion-specific competences for teachers (Ó Ceallaigh et al., 2019; Ó Ceallaigh & Ó Laoire, 2021). The need to improve some aspects of IME provision becomes more critical as the sector grows (Ó Ceallaigh & Ní Shéaghdha, 2017; Ó Duibhir, 2018). Scholars agree that immersion teaching – distinct from traditional content or language teaching – is driven by professional values and requires a particular knowledge base and pedagogical skill set (e.g. Cammarata & Ó Ceallaigh, 2020; Mac Corraidh, 2008, 2021; Ó Ceallaigh & Ní Shéaghdha, 2017; Ó Duibhir, 2018). Despite the extensive corpus of research into multilingualism, no studies nor curriculum guidelines have explicitly identified the immersion-specific competences demanded by the IME setting. There is a growing recognition that IME teaching makes higher demands in terms of disciplinary expertise and knowledge (Cammarata & Ó Ceallaigh, 2020). However, what constitutes an ideal IME immersion knowledge base has yet to be well understood or clearly described. In addition, the values which underpin, guide and shape the work of IME teachers are yet to be defined.
The aim of this study is to firstly identify this ideal knowledge base, i.e. distinctive professional competences that are considered essential to teachers in IME, and secondly to provide examples of these distinctive professional competences in practice. Utilising an online questionnaire, a student teacher symposium, interviews and focus groups, data were collected from key stakeholders (n=78) across the continuum of IM education in Northern Ireland (NI) and in the Republic of Ireland (ROI) e.g. student teachers, practising teachers, principals, initial teacher education providers.
Three broad themes emerged for data analysis – vision and values, teacher knowledge for immersion, and pedagogical skills and practices. A range of essential competences are set out under each theme in this report.
Findings from this SCoTENS study have potential to inform the design of an immersion-specific TPL framework in Ireland. Such a framework would enable IME teachers to engage in ongoing, in-depth, systematic and reflective examinations of their practice. The researchers wish to highlight the fact that the core competences of the immersion teacher are not presented as a static, complete set of descriptors. Rather, they are integral to the reflective, evolving, generative identity of the IME teacher and should be re-visited, reviewed and further developed, as appropriate. Progress towards that goal will depend significantly on a commitment by policy-makers to anchor core immersion competences in
qualification frameworks and adopt TPL standards that guide design, evaluation and funding of IME TPL initiatives, enabling IME teachers to manifest and develop these core immersion competencies.