Scottish Election 2021: SNP's plans for Gaelic education contain an extraordinary snub to Edinburgh Council – John McLellan
The SNP has long been accused of a disdain for local government, starving councils of cash and drawing control to the centre, while its representatives predictably blame Westminster.
But as if proof were needed, last week’s launch of the Nationalist manifesto contained an extraordinary snub for Edinburgh Council, which if honoured has far-reaching repercussions for its secondary schools.
All the attention was on the cornucopia of uncosted giveaways designed to land an absolute majority in next month’s election, but just two paragraphs effectively gave notice of the Scottish government’s intention to take direct control of a significant education policy.
The council plans to establish a Gaelic-medium education (GME) secondary school where all lessons are taught in Gaelic, but the manifesto makes clear the SNP thinks this can’t be left to the local authority.
Gaelic is currently taught at James Gillespie’s High School, which is already well over its 1,450 capacity and by 2030 is projected to have 500 more pupils than it was designed for, with no room for expansion. Following public consultation, the council’s intention was to establish the new GME school in a purpose-built joint campus at Liberton High, but then the manifesto landed.
“We will support the development of additional GME primary schools in Edinburgh and the Lothians as an important step towards the creation of a standalone GME secondary school in central Edinburgh,” it said. “A central location is necessary to ensure it is accessible from major public transport hubs to allow the new standalone school to serve the wider Lothian region.”
Not Liberton then, but the manifesto goes further. “Edinburgh City Council has taken forward important engagement on GME provision, but we will ensure that this is now incorporated within a new national strategic approach. This is essential if we are to see the faster rates of progress we seek for Gaelic.”
There is an argument for national co-ordination because of the shortage of teachers able to deliver all subjects in Gaelic, and making Edinburgh Council responsible for the education of children from across Scotland is not unfeasible, but that’s not what the council was planning.
And if not Liberton, where? Back at James Gillespie’s where there is no room? Boroughmuir or St Thomas of Aquins, both also beyond capacity? Any alternative has serious consequences for capacity and catchment areas.
It would be extraordinary if the SNP leadership did not know all this had been considered, that it had been the subject of a public consultation, and that the council has been in deep negotiation with the Scottish government about GME provision. If it didn’t, something is badly wrong.
The result has been fury within the council’s SNP-led administration because the first they knew about it was when the manifesto appeared. The embarrassment is acute because the public consultation resulted in a report last month, with further details due to be discussed tomorrow at a meeting which was cancelled yesterday.
Apparently, it’s all a big misunderstanding , but the strong wording – “This is essential…” – suggests otherwise. Locally and nationally the SNP will pull down the shutters and try to wait until after the election to sort out the mess – tomorrow’s discussion now won’t happen until May 18 – but mistake or not, failing to inform their own people is disrespectful, disdainful or incompetent. And nothing to do with Westminster.