This paper describes a model as well as experiments on spin-polarized tunnelling with the aid of optical spin orientation. This involves tunnel junctions between a magnetic material and gallium arsenide (GaAs), where the latter is optically excited with circularly polarized light in order to generate spin-polarized carriers. A transport model is presented that takes account of carrier capture in the semiconductor surface states, and describes the semiconductor surface in terms of a spin-dependent energy distribution function. The so-called surface spin-splitting can be calculated from the balance of the polarized electron and hole flow in the semiconductor subsurface region, the polarized tunnelling current across the tunnel barrier between the magnetic material and the semiconductor surface, and the spin relaxation at the semiconductor surface. Measurements are presented of the circular-polarization-dependent photocurrent (the so-called helicity asymmetry) in thin-film tunnel junctions of Co/Al2O3/GaAs. In the absence of a tunnel barrier, the helicity asymmetry is caused by magneto-optical effects (magnetic circular dichroism). In the case where a tunnel barrier is present, the data cannot be explained by magneto-optical effects alone; the deviations provide evidence that spin-polarized tunnelling due to optical spin orientation occurs. In Co/ tau -MnAl/AlAs/GaAs junctions no deviations from the magneto-optical effects are observed, most probably due to the weak spin polarization of tau -MnAl along the tunnelling direction; the latter is corroborated by band structure calculations. Finally, the application of photoexcited GaAs for spin-polarized tunnelling in a scanning tunnelling microscope is discussed.