Edinburgh's fight for Gaelic school immortalised in new book

It was a fight that deeply divided language activists and their opponents and rumbled on in the Capital for 14 long years.

Now the campaign to have a dedicated Gaelic primary school in the Capital has been turned into a new book.

Ever since 2013 the city has had its first Gaelic medium education (GME) school at Bun-Sgoil Taobh na Pàirce, a formerly mothballed primary school in Bonnington.

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Previously the Gaelic “school” had been simply a unit within Tollcross Primary.

Tim Armstrong (pictured right) launches book about Edinburgh's fight for Gaelic school picture: supplied
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Mr Armstrong, a senior lecturer at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, the National Centre for Gaelic Language and Culture on the Isle of Skye, said: “People are suspicious of Gaelic culture and some think it’s not appropriate for the cosmopolitan capital city of Edinburgh”.

Bonnington was approved by the City of Edinburgh council in 2011 and, according to data from 2018-19, has 375 students.

This has come under scrutiny as some sceptics believe parents are sending their children to the primary school as a means to get into the high school without having to buy a home in the catchment area.

However, Mr Armstrong said: “[James Gillespie’s] is certainly a good school but research shows that people choose GME because they are interested in the educational benefits of bilingualism or Gaelic as a part of their identity.

Last Wednesday, Edinburgh council proposed plans to move the GME unit to a new dual campus school on the site of the former Liberton High School.

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Mr Armstrong said: “Standalone schools are critical to ensure students are fully bilingual and are confident in their ability to use the language out of schools and in social settings”.

Councillor Alison Dickie, the city council’s Gaelic Champion, said: “Together, with the Gaelic community, we’re on a journey to support the flourishing of the language here in Edinburgh through the production of our second Gaelic Language Plan and a long term strategy to develop GME.”

The book also comes as Alasdair Allan MSP led a Scottish Parliament debate yesterday on the benefits of GME.

Mr Allan said: “Knowing what we know about the cognitive, cultural and social benefits of bilingualism... education in the Gaelic language should be offered in every school, to every child in the Western Isles, and continue to grow elsewhere too.”

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The Western Isles MSP praised the islands’ council Comhairle nan Eilean Siar’s

decision to enrol pupils into GME as the default choice.

This follows the criticism of Scottish Tory Education spokesperson Liz Smith who suggested GME was a “worrying” and “troubling” move, which would put children at a “distinct disadvantage”.

The book launch will be held on February 24 at 7pm at Bun-Sgoil Taobh na Pàirce.