Edinburgh Gaelic secondary school: parents' opposition to latest proposals persuades councillors to have more talks

Plans for a formal consultation on a Gaelic secondary school for Edinburgh have been halted after councillors heard 86 per cent of the parents did not believe either of the options being proposed was satisfactory.

By Ian Swanson
Tuesday, 25th January 2022, 3:36 pm

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Instead, the city's education committee agreed there should be further discussions with the Gaelic-medium education (GME) community with a report back to their meeting on March 1, the last before the council elections in May.

It means the whole question of a Gaelic secondary will be passed on to the new council.

A new joint campus at Liberton was the council's recommended option for the location of a Gaelic secondary school.

The SNP-Labour administration had wanted to launch a statutory consultation on a Gaelic school as part of a joint campus with a new Liberton High School or a stand-alone Gaelic school on the site of the current Castlebrae High in Craigmillar.

A letter from Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville dashed any hopes that the former Royal Victoria Hospital site could offer a more central location for a stand-alone school. The letter said NHS Lothian did not view the site as surplus to requirements. It was currently being used as car parking pace for the Western General and was due to become a decant centre when building work begins on the new regional cancer centre at the Western General, so the land would not be available for years.

A deputation from Gaelic parents association Comann nam Pàrant appealed to the committee not to go ahead with a statutory consultation.

Secretary Harriet Baker said in a survey of parents over the past few days, 77 per cent said the committee should not approve a statutory consultation. And asked whether they were confident the proposals would lead to a GME high school which met the needs of their children, 86 per cent had little or no confidence.

Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville was challenged on education funding during a Holyrood committee session.

She told the committee: "Vote to proceed to statutory consultation and you bring forward a proposal that has no significant support from the GME community it seeks to serve. Vote against proceeding and you give yourself the chance of success, you gain the necessary time to engage with parents and the wider community, create a proposal that meets their needs and crucially has their support."

Education director Amanda Hatton said the committee was being asked to approve an open consultation, which would allow parents to put forward other options.

But she also said she was confident officials had already examined all the potential options.

Both Conservative education spokesman Callum Laidlaw and and Lib Dem Louise Young said they had started off wanting to press ahead with the consultation, but had changed their minds after hearing the parents' deputation.

Cllr Laidlaw said it was clear the proposed options did not meet parents’ aspirations. “I was of a mind to move forward quickly today, but having heard what we've heard my mood has changed.”

And Cllr Young said: "I came into this wanting to crack on, but I feel we are going to waste council resources doing a consultation when we know what it's going to say. 'None of the above' is going to be the clear majority."

The Greens had tabled an amendment ahead of the meeting calling for a delay, so it became clear the administration would be outvoted by the opposition parties and convener Ian Perry adjourned the meeting to see if a consensus could be reached.

Nearly an hour later, the meeting resumed and approved an all-party motion instigating the further talks with parents.

Cllr Perry told the parents: "Clearly this is not an ideal situation. We have heard what you said and we think a further consultation with the council will be helpful, both from the council's point of view and your point of view.”

He made clear afterwards: “The report back will not include going to a statutory consultation.”

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