Gaelic plan for Edinburgh school branded ‘social cleansing’

Parents at Drummond Community High are concerned about plans to turn the school into a dedicated Gaelic education centre. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Parents at Drummond Community High are concerned about plans to turn the school into a dedicated Gaelic education centre. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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FURIOUS parents at a city secondary school have accused education chiefs of attempting what they called “social cleansing” over tentative plans to redesignate it as a dedicated facility for Gaelic education.

Edinburgh City Council are considering proposals to move the Capital’s provision of bilingual schooling from James Gillespie’s to Drummond Community High following a surge in demand for Gaelic Medium Education (GME).

The move will see pupils from Edinburgh’s only GME-primary - Bun-sgoil Taobh na Pàirce - feed into “enhanced” Gaelic provision at Drummond alongside the standard intake of pupils. Under the current system, GME pupils feed into a Gaelic unit at Gillespie’s.

However, the school is projected to experience difficulty accommodating the projected pupil intake in future years, while Drummond is currently operating at around half of its maximum capacity.

But parents and community leaders have accused the authority of using ‘Trojan horse’ tactics in an attempt to “close the school to local children”.

They argue Drummond will be “at its limit within four years” of the plans being put in place, at which point hundreds of non-GME pupils will be displaced to other secondaries in the area in favour of creating a Gaelic-only school.

It is also feared services for children with additional support needs which are currently provided at Drummond could be affected by the move.

Edmund Farrow, Treasurer of the Parent Council at Drummond, said the school was at the “heart of the local community”, adding he feared it would be “lost” for future generations. He said: “Drummond is a great school which nurtures the talents of all pupils who attend, no matter their background. It is a success story of how to build community and respect in an ethnically and demographically diverse area.”

“The move of GME to Drummond would quickly lead to the school being closed to local children, undoing all the hard work the school has done in recent years to position itself in the heart of our community.”

Under the current estimate, Drummond is thought to have 333 pupils, almost half its maximum capacity of 600, while Gillespie’s, with a maximum intake of 1,300, has around 1,251 students, including 109 from the GME programme.

However, Gillespie’s intake is projected to grow to over 1,500 by the 2021/22 school year, while Drummond’s will only rise to 418 in that time.

The proposals will see the GME pupil roll, which is projected to double to more than 200 in the next four years, merged with Drummond, which will also receive pupils from Bun-sgoil Taobh na Pàirce.

But parents claim that would exceed the capacity of the school.

Mimmi Demitri von Pezold, whose child attends Drummond, said: “I value diversity, otherwise we would not have chosen Drummond and I think a Gaelic speaking campus could be great for Edinburgh, but certainly not at the expense of the multi ethnic composition we have at Drummond at the moment.”

Parent Rachel Guatelli said: “As far as we can see, there is no record of any council assessment of the school’s suitability from the perspective of Drummond pupils.”

“If there had been they would have found a thriving, diverse, inclusive school whose achievements in ‘getting it right for every child’ are outstanding, improving the outcomes of the most disadvantaged and vulnerable members of our community.”

Cllr Ian Perry, education convener, reassured parents the proposal was in the “very early stages”, insisting there was “no rush” to put the plans in place.

He added: “The need to address future capacity issues at James Gillespie’s resulted in us considering opportunities to move GME education to another location and analysis identified Drummond as a potential option as it is currently operating under capacity.

“Additional pupils would enhance the curriculum choice on offer and being close to Bun-sgoil Taobh na Pàirce presents an ideal opportunity for resources to be shared.

“Some have fed back concerns about the implications for pupils from the existing Drummond High catchment area if in the longer term the school’s current capacity was not able to cope with existing intakes.

“No matter how long it takes, we will look at options to address this and engage with the affected school communities on these options as part of the process.”