Edinburgh's Gaelic high school: Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville puts ball back in council's court

Scottish Government looking for ‘early progress’ from Edinburgh council

Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville has tried to put the ball back in the city council’s court over a Gaelic high school for Edinburgh.

The long-running saga of the search for a site to house a Gaelic-medium education (GME) secondary school in the Capital was raised during a debate in the Scottish Parliament on the future of the Gaelic and Scots languages. The SNP fought the last Holyrood election on a manifesto which advocated a stand-alone location in central Edinburgh for the school even though the city council, then led by the SNP, was proposing a joint campus in Liberton.

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The council has argued the Scottish Government would have to fund a city-centre site if one could be found, but Ms Somerville has offered no guarantee of funding. And education convener Joan Griffiths claimed in September that Ms Somerville now accepted there was no suitable city-centre site. But the Education Secretary told MSPs she hoped to see “early progress” from the council on the issue.

During the debate, Green MSP Ariane Burgess was the first to refer to the Edinburgh GME high school. She noted the number of pupils in primary GME had risen by 80 per cent, though that was just one per cent of the national total of primary school pupils. She continued: "Improvement in secondary level has been slower, where only 0.5 per cent of the total secondary school pupils are in GME. The long-promised high school in Scotland’s capital could go a long way to underscoring Gaelic’s importance.

“I recognise the challenges for secondary level where there is the need for teachers who teach a speciality subject in Gaelic, but if we are to recruit well and for the long term we need plans to provide support and a clear career path.”

Labour’s Martin Whitfield then asked for an update from Ms Somerville on the current situation with the Gaelic high school in Edinburgh. He said: “I am aware of parents who phrased the need so brilliantly – ‘the need 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’ – and that is so very true.”

Ms Somerville said she had recently had a “very useful and constructive” meeting with parents on the issue. She told the parliament: “We’ve worked with the council to try and find a suitable site. There’s nothing within the Scottish Government properties that is of use for that, but I do think therefore we need to see early progress by the council. And I was disappointed to find out, certainly at the time I met the parents, that the city council had not met with them since the local government elections. I have written to the council to encourage them to do so.”

The council's preferred option was for a Gaelic high school to be built on a joint campus with the new Liberton High School.