Edinburgh Gaelic high school: Scottish Government accepts there's no suitable site, Education Convener claims

City education convener Joan Griffiths claims the Scottish Government now accepts there is no suitable city-centre site for a Gaelic high school despite a pledge in the SNP’s manifesto for last year’s Holyrood elections.

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The 2021 manifesto promised support for additional Gaelic-medium education (GME) primary schools and "the creation of a stand-alone GME secondary school in central Edinburgh".

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But Cllr Griffiths claimed Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville had now acknowledged her department was unable to identify a viable site for such a school.

She told the council’s education committee: “At the request of he Cabinet Secretary I met with her purely to talk about GME and at that meeting she was very clear she had instructed her officials to look at a city-centre site and there wasn't anything. She said she was going to meet with the parents and advise them of that.”

Gaelic parents have made clear they do not support the council’s proposal to build a GME high school on joint campus with a new Liberton High School.

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They argue for a central site so the new school could cater for pupils from all over the city. And they believe a stand-alone school is needed to create a linguistic bubble where pupils and staff would speak Gaelic throughout the day, which they say is the best way of learning a language.

A report to the committee listed potential city-centre sites the council had considered but said all were either unsuitable or unavailable.

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Green councillor Dan Heap says the Fettes police station site could still be a possible site for a Gaelic high school.

David Key, the SNP’s education spokesman on the council, said he feared the issue of a Gaelic high school would be kicked into the long grass.

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“In five years’ time we’ll be sitting here again discussing again about suitable sites and having got absolutely nowhere. The aim of us all is to increase GME throughout Edinburgh and we’re not doing that – we’re just sitting on our hands. We need to have a new idea from somewhere.”

He called for immediate further engagement with all stakeholders and for a substantive programme for the building of a secondary GME school to be brought back to committee within 12 months.

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Green councillor Dan Heap said concerted action was needed to break the stalemate over a site for the school – and suggested a city-centre site might still be an option.

He said: "We need to be moving forward quickly with the council’s responsibility to establish a much-needed GME high school in a suitable central location that has the support of Gaelic families in Edinburgh. We need focused group of councillors, officers and stakeholders to thrash out the various possibilities and identify a solution as soon as possible.”

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He suggested the Fettes police station site was a possibility, even though officials had ruled it out as not available. He said: “Our understanding is the police do intend to vacate the site and there might be scope for the Scotttish Government to free up part of that site.”

The committee agreed to Labour’s proposal to reconvene the Gaelic Implementation Group, which brings together councillors, council officers and representatives of the Gaelic community, to discuss the current situation and explore future proposals if alternative sites become available.

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Cllr Griffiths accepted a Green request that the group would have the same membership as before and would meet before the next education committee.

The Scottish Government said it was committed to expanding Gaelic Medium Education in Edinburgh and across Scotland. A spokesperson said: “The Scottish Government will continue to support the council in its work to identify an appropriate site for a new GME secondary school in the city. We expect the council to work closely with parents so that progress can be made.”

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