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International Comparison | IMEASC | Campaign for Legislation to provide Irish-Medium Education at School

International Comparison

International Comparison

What are other countries doing?


Successive Welsh governments have recognised the importance of the Welsh language and the role that the education system plays in creating and nurturing Welsh speakers. Since 1947 they have systematically promoted Welsh Medium Education underpinned with legislation.


– The first Welsh-medium primary state school was established in 1947
– About 10% of students were educated in Welsh-medium primary schools in the 1980s.
– By 2000-01 this had grown to 19% of the primary school population, or 49.5k pupils
– In the past 20 years total numbers have largely tracked demographics growing by c. 33% to 65k pupils (c. 24% of primary school population).
– The first Welsh-medium secondary (comprehensive) school, opened in 1956
– About 10% of students were educated in Welsh-medium schools in the mid 1980s.
– By 2000-01 this had grown to 18% of the secondary school population, or 38k pupils
– In the past 20 years total numbers have largely tracked demographics growing by c. 14% to 43.5k pupils (c. 23% of secondary school population).

Click here to read the research

Welsh medium education is underpinned by primary legislation.

Section 9 of the Education Act 1996 states that local authorities must have regard to the general principle that pupils are to be educated in accordance with the wishes of their parents so far as that is compatible with the provision of efficient instruction and training and the avoidance of unreasonable public expenditure. Section 86, 86A and 86B of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 develop this principle and refer to ‘education in accordance with parental wishes’.

The School Standards and Organisation (Wales) Act 2013, places a statutory duty on local authorities to assess the demand for Welsh-medium education in their area through their Welsh in Education Strategic Plans (WESPs).

Click here to read the research

Welsh government have clearly stated that if “local authorities do not cooperate on a voluntary basis in assessing and responding effectively to parental demand, then further levers, including legislation, will be considered”

The Welsh government “Welsh in Education – Action plan 2017–21” is focused on “the compulsory provision of additional Welsh medium education” and is considered an integral part for the realisation of their vision of Cymraeg 2050: “A million Welsh speakers”.

Some key action points

January 2018

Establish an independent board to advise on changes to Welsh-medium education planning processes.

Spring 2018

Review the current legislation that underpins the regulations and guidance for the WESPs.

Spring 2018

Consider options to develop alternative models of delivering Welsh-medium provision, including through online, distance or digital learning models.

Spring 2019

Review the process for increasing the proportion of Welsh-medium teaching and learning in schools

Note: In 2019 the Welsh Government’s set a target to increase the proportion of each school year group receiving Welsh-medium education to 30 percent by 2031, and then 40 percent by 2050.

Basque Autonomous Community

Since the death of Franco and the introduction of democracy, the status of Basque has transformed from being illegal to being supported at all levels with legislation.

Legal Background

Basque medium education is underpinned by primary legislation. Current developments of that law are based on Basque Parliament laws 1/1993 (Basque state schooling) and 2/1993 (school staff). Secondary legislation is too voluminous to mention in detail. Click here to read more



Basque is legally forbidden


Grass root promotion campaign


Basque becomes official with legislation passed

Growth in Basque Medium Education

The graph highlights the significant growth of Basque-medium education. It grew from about 13% in 1983 up to 75% in 2011.

This increase required increases in Basque teaching competence.

In 1968: only 8% of teachers were competent to teach in Basque

In 2016, 93% of teachers were accredited to level C1.

Source: Dept. of Education, Basque Government – 2017

Positive impact of Basque medium education on spoken Basque

The maps below give an indication of the correlated impact that Basque medium education has had on Basque spoken in the community.

Source: European Research Centre on Multilingualism and Language Learning – 2020

In 2014 c. 36% of the population speak Basque (749,000 people), up from 22% in 1981, (431,000)

In the younger generation: 71% in the 16-24 age group speak Basque (2016). (This percentage is larger if the under-16 age group is taken into account.)

Studies indicate that of the additional c. 300k Basque speakers in this period, 200k are attributable to Basque immersion education.


Canada has two official languages; English / French. Canada’s ‘Charter of Rights and Freedoms’ provides the legal framework for both and includes statutory guarantees for education in both languages

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Legal Background

In 2020 the Canadian Supreme Court upheld the right of parents to equal access of French-medium education in British Columbia.

Link to Case


Quebec passed it’s French medium education legislation (Bill 63) in 1969 and followed up by enacting Bill 101, the Charte de la langue française, in 1977, which stipulates that French must be the language of legislation and the courts, administration, work, and business as well as education.

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New Zealand


Under Section 155 (s155) or Section 156 (s156) of New Zealand’s Education Act 1990 Māori language education is available in many locations throughout the country, both as a subject in a normal English-medium school as well as through immersion in Māori-medium schools set up under the Act.

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Council of Europe and the EU

The Council of Europe has produced a European Charter for Regional or Minority languages. 25 European states have signed and ratified. Ireland has not.

The EU is actively promoting multi-lingualism in education. The European Union and its Member States are committed to increasing the level of ambition for language learning in school. This includes literacy in the language(s) of schooling as well as the acquisition of two additional languages.

The Education Information Network in Europe (Eurydice) 2019 Report on “The Teaching of Regional or Minority Languages in Schools in Europe” sets out a comprehensive report on the current status of language learning and minority language medium education in Europe.

“The Recommendation of the Council of the European Union of 22 May 2019 on a comprehensive approach to the teaching and learning of languages recognises the value of learning and maintaining any language which is part of a person’s individual interests and circumstances. It recognises the vast linguistic diversity in Europe and encourages Member States to increase the level of ambition for language learning in school.”

“There are several indicators of language vitality (European Parliament, 2017) such as the number of speakers (in absolute terms and as a proportion of the total population of a given State), the governmental and institutional language attitudes and policies, including its official status and use, and the availability of materials for language education and literacy. Policies and initiatives adopted by public authorities, notably in the area of education, are key contributing factors to language vitality in private and public spaces.”

“In the majority of education systems, top-level education authorities refer to regional or minority languages in official documents.”

“In order to support the teaching of regional languages in schools, some European education systems, such as those in France, Lithuania, Slovakia, Sweden, Scotland, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro, have developed a legal framework to encourage or guarantee this instruction.”
Ireland is one of the few EU countries not to have reference to minority language in top level education official documents – ref. Map below

Legislation is required for the long-term sustainable provision of IME

All international experience reinforces the need to provide legislation