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Minister launches new Irish Sign Language Bachelor of Education programme for deaf students

Minister for Education and Skills Joe McHugh T.D. has today formally launched a new undergraduate programme in DCU that enables deaf and hard of hearing people who use Irish Sign Language (ISL) to enter primary teaching.

The programme is receiving funding from the Department of Education and Skills under the PATH 1 inclusion programme. The objective of this fund is to increase access to initial teacher education for students from the target groups identified in the National Access Plan, including students with disabilities.

The new B.Ed. (Irish Sign Language) is the first programme of its kind in the history of the State. It is being provided by Dublin City University’s Institute of Education from this September, and applications are now invited through the current CAO process (closing date: February 1st 2019).

Minister McHugh said: “This new degree programme for people who are deaf and hard of hearing to become teachers is a hugely important step towards ensuring increased access and inclusion for all in the classroom.

“It will enable deaf children who use Irish Sign Language in primary school to fully access the curriculum by having teachers who are fluent ISL users.

“I want to thank DCU’s Institute of Education. It is an historic development. It will open the door to a world of teaching both for young people who use Irish Sign Language but also for people who want to teach through sign.”

This new pathway into the B.Ed. is being introduced initially on a pilot basis from September with six places available, with subsequent intakes of students scheduled for September 2023 onwards.

The existing pre-requisite for Leaving Certificate higher-level Irish is being replaced with an entry requirement at a similar level in Irish Sign Language.

While entry to the course is exclusively for members of the Deaf Community who wish to become primary school teachers working in the deaf education sector, core modules will be delivered along with hearing peers in the B.Ed programme, while modules specific to deaf education will be delivered as a specialism.

Some deaf education-specific modules will be made available as electives to hearing student-teachers. The four-year, full-time undergraduate course also includes a 30-week school placement.

Minister Mary Mitchell O’Connor T.D.said: “Today marks the first time a designated entry route for primary teaching has been available to deaf Irish Sign Language users. It is about inclusion. It is a progressive measure and I am delighted that we have been able to bring it to fruition for the 2019 academic year.”
Explaining the background to the course, Dr Anne Looney, Executive Dean of the Institute of Education at DCU said: “This new course means that children who access learning and express themselves through Irish Sign Language can be taught by teachers who do the same and who will be fantastic role models for deaf students in our education system.

“Traditionally, the languages needed to enter primary teaching have been English and Irish. Now, ISL gets its full recognition, and equal status as a path to primary teaching.

“I want to thank Minister McHugh, his predecessors and the Department of Education and Skills for this important designation, and would also like to acknowledge the efforts of Dr Elizabeth Mathews from the School of Inclusive and Special Education at the DCU Institute of Education in championing this work over the past eight years.”

Notes for Editors:

DCU ISL Programme
This programme has been approved by the Department of Education and Skills as the programme entry requirements are consistent with departmental policy. It has also been approved for accreditation by the Teaching Council.

This is the final project for approval with all of the other approved PATH funded projects across the spectrum of HEIs covering all target groups.

Target group
Until now there has been no entry route to primary teacher education for someone who communicates through ISL and cannot meet the minimum entry requirement for Irish in Leaving Certificate. There are teachers at post-primary who are moderately to profoundly deaf, with ISL as their first preferred language, and who have come through the deaf education system. These teachers may be fluent in ISL and may use a mix of signing and written English depending on circumstances and context.

The B.Ed. will be open to students who have come through schools for the deaf or special classes and have taken the Leaving Cert using ISL and want to teach. It will also be open to mature students.

There are two schools and 10 special classes (located in five schools) for deaf/hard of hearing pupils at primary. There are three post-primary schools with four special classes in total for students with a hearing impairment. Including principals, a total of 58 teachers (primary and post-primary) are currently employed in these settings, teaching approximately 220 students. There is no breakdown available for the number of deaf students in mainstream classes in mainstream schools.

Each school for the deaf has approximately 6-8 students per class, usually with mixed types of communication (ISL, lip-reading etc.). At present, these classes are taught by a hearing teacher who may have an additional non-teaching staff member with ISL to translate.

PATH Programme
In September 2016 the Department of Education and Skills made an allocation of €2.7 million available over a three year timeframe under Strand 1 of the PATH Fund. The objective of this fund is to increase access to initial teacher education for students from the target groups identified in the National Access Plan, namely:

  1. Students from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds.
  2. Mature students.
  3. Students with disabilities.
  4. Travellers.
  5. Part time/flexible learners.
  6. Further Education award holders.

The Department of Education and Skills, through the HEA, invited the six centres of teaching excellence, in partnership with relevant local stakeholders, to compete for the funding by submitting proposals in accordance with a set of prescribed criteria. The HEA established an independent assessment panel to evaluate proposals and make funding recommendations. Higher Education (Equity of Access) is the lead section in this matter. The two panel members were Professor Liz Thomas (Edge Hill University, UK) and Professor Kari Smith (Norwegian University of Science and Technology - NTNU), both considered international experts in the area of promoting access to higher education. The panel considered and scored each application in terms of strategic approach, impact and funding (including value for money).

Under PATH 1, the objective is to increase the number of students from under-represented groups entering initial teacher education and to;

  • provide more role models for students from these groups, demonstrating that there are pathways open to them to realise their potential through education
  • help provide better outcomes for students from disadvantaged groups. By ensuring that there are more teachers in place with a personal understanding of the challenges that these groups face will mean that they can bring their experience bear on their teaching methods.

The funding will support a range of new initiatives and partnerships and it is expected that these activities will support more than 120 new students, from groups that are currently under-represented, to participate in initial teacher education programmes.
The type of new and innovative projects that will be developed by the Initial Teacher Education providers include:

  • Targeting students in DEIS schools, from Junior Cycle onwards, to raise expectations and to promote teaching as a profession. 
  • The provision of academic supports for target students in key areas such as Gaeilge and Mathematics.
  • Target students will also be enabled to engage in ‘taster’ initial teacher education modules.
  • Supporting the teaching teams in DEIS schools to assist them to critically assess the structural barriers to their students accessing initial teacher education and supporting them to formulate individualised school action plans to address those obstacles.
  • Teachers will also be supported to strengthen their leadership skills and develop culturally responsive teaching and cross-cultural communication skills to enable them to act as mentors to aspiring teachers.
  • Working directly with communities with low participation rates in higher education to promote awareness of pathways into teaching as a profession and to provide information and relevant supports for those interested in exploring opportunities, including ‘taster’ initial teacher education programmes.
  • Creating a specific pathway from Further Education (FE) into post-primary initial teacher education. This will involve the promotion of teaching as a viable career option for FE students, the provision of ‘taster’ programmes, specific academic supports, subsidised places on initial teacher education programmes, and ring-fenced places for FE graduates.
  • Providing direct financial supports to target students in the form of scholarships or bursaries.

The funding is contingent on projects being in accordance with DES policy and, where relevant, meeting the Teaching Council’s criteria for ITE programme providers. Funding is also subject to satisfactory reporting to the HEA which evaluates progress reports submitted by the centres of education.