Northern Ireland

Sigrid Boyd
National Foundation for Educational Research

Language and Literacy

The language of Northern Ireland through custom and practice is English. Irish and Ulster Scots are recognized officially as minority languages.

The linguistic makeup of Northern Ireland has become considerably more diverse in recent years. The census of 2011 indicated that the most common “main language” in Northern Ireland after English was Polish, with more than 17,000 speakers. Other language communities with more than 1,000 speakers were Lithuanian, Irish, Portuguese, Slovak, Chinese, Tagalog/Filipino, Latvian, Russian, Malayam, and Hungarian.1

English is the language of instruction in the vast majority of schools. In the 2015–2016 school year, Irish medium schools catered to 2.2 percent of primary school students, of which the majority came from homes where English is the dominant language.2,3 The Department of Education has a legal duty under the Education (Northern Ireland) Order 1998 to encourage and facilitate the development of Irish medium education.

Northern Ireland’s extensive network of public libraries supports formal education through a class visits program, as well as targeting children, parents, and carers/caregivers through a variety of activities and events. The service is operated by the Northern Ireland Library Authority, which has a legal duty under the Libraries Act (Northern Ireland) 2008 to promote literacy and provide services for children.

BookTrust is a charity that aims to inspire children to read for pleasure through its book gifting programs and supporting resources. The Letterbox Club targets children in care and adopted children. Universal programs for babies and preschool children ran in Northern Ireland from the 2003–2004 school year until the 2014–2015 school year.