Edinburgh Gaelic high school: Row over school's location as parents reject Liberton High School plan

The row over where to site a Gaelic high school for Edinburgh appears to have reached stalemate.

Let us know what you think and join the conversation at the bottom of this article

Parents have made clear they don’t support the council’s plan for a joint campus with the new Liberton High School and argue instead for a stand-alone school in a city-centre location. But the council says no such site is available.

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And now education chiefs have warned the delay over a dedicated high school could lead to a cap on the number of pupils entering Gaelic primary education.

Edinburgh’s secondary-age Gaelic Medium Education (GME) unit is currently based at James Gillespie’s High School, but the school is at capacity and the GME pupils are due to move to the Darroch annexe soon as part of the plans for coping with the space problems.

Plans to launch a formal consultation on the Liberton proposal or an alternative option of a stand-alone school on the site of the former Castlebrae High were halted earlier this year when councillors decided instead there should be further discussions with the GME community.

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Now a report to the education committee on Tuesday sets out why potential sites close to the city centre are not viable and warns the failure to agree on the way forward could have a knock-on effect on children entering Gaelic education.

There has been a dedicated Gaelic primary school in Bonnington since 2013 and the consultation included proposals for two new primary GME units to serve other parts of the Capital – one at Prestonfield Primary for the south-east of the city and one at Carrick Knowe Primary to cater for the west.

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The council's proposal is for a joint campus, with the Gaelic high school alongside a new Liberton High School.

The report says: “One implication of the delay in progressing with a statutory consultation is that the plans for the growth of GME at primary level will be delayed. Options to consider capping the number of pupils entering primary GME in the city need to be considered until the plan for growth is determined. A placement policy which restricts numbers of GME pupils may be required.”

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The SNP manifesto for the Scottish Parliament elections in 2021 included backing for "the creation of a standalone GME secondary school in central Edinburgh". But the council has not secured any guarantee of government funding to achieve such an ambition.

And the report rules out each of the central sites considered:

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- Lothian Buses’ Annandale Street depot, which is adjacent to Drummond High School, is still operational and there are “no current plans to relocate”.

Fettes police station is one of the more central potential sites looked at but ruled out because it is "not available".
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- Fettes police station would be a big enough site, but “Scottish Government and Police have confirmed site is not available”.

- Royal Victoria Hospital site would also be a suitable size, but “Scottish Government and NHS have confirmed site is not available”.

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- The council depot at Russell Road is said to have poor access, potential contamination issues and is “not considered a suitable site for education”.

- Princess Alexandra Eye Pavilion is “too small for any reasonable-scaled school” but also “still operational and not available”.

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The report says engagement with the GME community will continue and options for the future can be considered based on these discussions.

Alys Mumford, co-convenor of the council’s Green group, said: “It’s disappointing that we haven’t seen more progress towards identifying a suitable site for a GME high school and especially disconcerting that there has been no meaningful engagement with the Gaelic community since March. It’s essential the council gets round the table with Gaelic parents, listens to their concerns and works hard to identify possible sites for a stand-alone Gaelic school in an accessible location.

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"We also need the council to rule out a cap on numbers entering GME. There has been a significant growth in Gaelic education over recent years, and we need the council to support that growth, not stifle it.”

The Gaelic parents’ association, Comann nam Pàrant, said it welcomed the council’s latest update and its commitment to continued engagement with the GME community, though it added: “We hope to soon find out more about how and when this might take place.”

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The parents also welcomed the appointment of a depute head teacher for GME at James Gillespie’s and the opening of the Darroch annexe. But they said: “Key concerns remain unaddressed, not least information on financing and strategic planning.

"These points are fundamental and contribute significantly towards establishing the framework in which parental engagement can take place and progress can be made. Clarification on the involvement of the Scottish Government throughout the process is essential, especially given their manifesto commitments to GME.”

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