There has been a noted deterioration in the standard of learning in Irish in primary schools over the last four years, according to inspectors from the Department of Education.

The latest Chief Inspector's Report, published this morning, expresses concern about the teaching of Irish at both primary and second level.

It finds that standards in Irish are poorer than those in English and Maths.

It also finds that spending per student, across all education levels, has fallen by 15% since 2010. This decrease reflects the rise in pupil numbers at primary level.

The report found that the quality of teaching and learning of the language was "less than satisfactory" in 28% of schools examined.

At post-primary level, while the report states that "challenges persist", it found an improvement in students' learning in the language since the last inspector's report in 2013.

The report is the product of 5,500 school inspections, carried out over almost four years.

While it records improvements in the quality of teaching and learning for English and Mathematics at primary level, the opposite is the case with Irish.

It found 28% of Irish lessons are "less than satisfactory", compared to just 4% of Maths classes, and 7% of English classes.

Just 12% of Irish classes are in the "very good" category, compared to 33% and 27% of Maths and English classes respectively.

The improvements in Maths and English have come about after an active policy focus on those two areas by the Department of Education.

The department said it hopes new measures, including professional development for primary school teachers, and curricular changes, will now improve standards in Irish. 

The report also found that the quality of teaching in primary schools was generally of high standard, and that between 88% and 94% of schools inspected were judged as "good" or "better".

The Department of Education said that this is an improvement on the previous 2010-2012 report, where the quality of teaching was reported to be "good" or "better" in over 86% of all inspections.

The report also outlined positive findings for post-primary schools, with the overall quality of teaching evaluated as "good" or "better" in 88% to 94% of lessons.

It said that while the overall standards of teaching and learning in both primary and secondary schools were "good" or "better", more lessons were "good" rather than "very good".

Director of the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals Clive Byrne said the report shows that schools will deliver when they are given the right kind of supports.

He said: "While today's findings are very encouraging, I am also mindful of the remaining challenges for secondary education.

"Curriculum reform at senior cycle is an area where we would like to see more progress so that we build on the improvements outlined in today's Chief Inspector's Report and address those where greater attention is needed.

"The current teacher shortage issue is also another area which threatens to undermine quality of education at primary and post-primary levels."

Association of Secondary Teachers of Ireland President Ger Curtin said the report will provide reassurance to parents and all partners in education that second-level schools and teachers work in a "highly professional manner and are clearly focused on the needs of their students".

"The findings contained in the report reflect the results of international studies which demonstrate that second-level schools and students in Ireland are performing very well," he added.

Schools facing funding challenges

According to the report, school managers say the level of State funding provided to them challenges their ability to fund day-to-day costs such as heating, lighting, and maintenance.

They report a heavy reliance on parents' voluntary contributions and fundraising efforts to meet this shortfall.

The report also finds evidence that the voluntary boards of management that run most schools "may not be adequately equipped to carry out all of the complex and growing range of responsibilities that are inherent in the management of a modern school".

It points especially to changes in employment law, financial management, and health and safety regulations that are placing additional burdens on schools.

It says a small minority of boards are proving "inadequate to the task".

The report warns that such challenges are likely to grow rather than diminish. It says "it would seem sensible to begin now to consider how the management of schools could evolve to meet these challenges".