Edinburgh council elections 2022: Candidates clash on new Gaelic school

Candidates in the local elections have clashed over where to site a Gaelic secondary school for Edinburgh as one parent accused the council of trying to kill off education in the language.
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The council's preferred option of building the new school on a shared campus with a new Liberton High School has failed to win majority support of parents, who argue the most effective way of learning Gaelic is in a "linguistic bubble".

And the parents were boosted by a surprise pledge in the SNP manifesto at last year's Holyrood election to support "the creation of a standalone Gaelic medium education (GME) secondary school in central Edinburgh".

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But the council says it has been unable to find a suitable city-centre site and it would need extra funding from the Scottish Government.

At an election hustings organised by Gaelic parents association Comann nam Pàrant, Green councillor Chas Booth, who has two children in Gaelic-medium education, said a shared campus was “not acceptable”.

"Greens have a firm manifesto commitment to a central stand-alone site,” he said. “We know a joint-campus school for a minority language such as Gaelic is not the best way forward. It doesn’t support that language immersion which is absolutely essential. The Greens are listening to the science on this. Unfortunately this council has been looking at this as a school estate problem to be solved.”

Highlighting the distance between the Gaelic primary school in Bonnington and the proposed secondary at Liberton, he said: “When you have 70 per cent of the Gaelic community in the north of the city it is absolute madness to try and site the secondary school in the extreme south.”

The council wants to build the Gaelic secondary school alongside a new Liberton High School.The council wants to build the Gaelic secondary school alongside a new Liberton High School.
The council wants to build the Gaelic secondary school alongside a new Liberton High School.
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And he warned if the new school was built in Liberton, some parents would remove their children from GME because of the travelling distance. “There will be some hard-core Gaelic enthusiasts who say four hours a day on the bus is fine for their kids. The majority of parents will not.”

Parent Annabel Harrison said: “It begins to look like the council is trying to kill off GME in Edinburgh by doing the exact opposite of what parents have asked for.”

But the SNP’s Lesley Macinnes denied trying to kill off GME. “At the risk of sounding like some sort of bravado gunslinger, over my dead body.”

She continued: “I wish the whole issue about a central location site had not come in the way it did come in. We are now suffering from having the spirit and desire to deliver but the practicalities of delivering a site that's big enough and is suitable are proving really problematic. If we could deliver a city-centre site we would. But we have gone through those sites and there are real problems.”

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She said it was not clear when sites like the Fettes police station, Russell Road council depot and the former Royal Victoria Hospital might be available.

Labour’s Lezley Marion Cameron said £500m had been cut from the council’s core budget over the last decade. She backed the Liberton plan. “It may not be perfect but we've got to go with what's possible.”

Tory candidate Tim Jones said: “We are pro-choice in education so we support a stand-alone, centrally-located, Gaelic-speaking school. We need a firm commitment on this financially in writing from the Scottish Government.”