The right plan is crucial to future Gaelic education - Wilson McLeod

Wilson McLeodWilson McLeod
Wilson McLeod
Parents of children in Gaelic-medium education won a reprieve this week when Edinburgh Council’s Education, Children and Families committee agreed to delay a statutory consultation on Gaelic provision.

There is an overwhelming view among parents that more information and more consultation is needed. A survey showed that 77 per cent opposed proceeding with the statutory consultation and 86 per cent had little or no confidence that the council’s plans would meet the educational needs of their children.

Several key issues remain to be clarified: the location of the proposed Gaelic secondary school, staffing and curricular provision, and expanding primary provision to different parts of the city.

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Edinburgh parents look enviously at Glasgow, where there has been a Gaelic secondary since 2006, along with three Gaelic primaries and a fourth on the way.

The council has proposed two sites in south east Edinburgh for the secondary school, at Liberton and Craigmillar. But current primary provision is at Taobh na Pàirce in Leith, and under the council’s future projections incorporating expanded primary provision, only a quarter of the secondary pupils would come from the south eastern third of the city.

In its manifesto for the 2021 parliamentary election, the SNP committed to support development of a standalone Gaelic secondary in central Edinburgh.

Since then there have been various discussions about possible locations but as of last week the council still had not provided sufficient information to the Scottish Government to justify its request for special funding. There has never even been a proper options appraisal of different potential locations.

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It has also become increasingly unclear what exactly a Gaelic secondary would involve in curricular terms. At Liberton, a co-location arrangement is proposed, so that certain facilities would be shared with the adjoining English-medium school; the Craigmillar option would involve a standalone school.

At this week’s committee meeting, however, a senior Council official took the position that there would have to be a tight relationship with an existing English-medium school in terms of teaching and curriculum.

As Glasgow’s experience shows, staffing a Gaelic secondary school will clearly be a serious challenge and some flexibility will be required, especially in the first years. But the Council’s proposed approach would undermine efforts to establish a Gaelic ethos for the school and risk cementing in an English-dominant model little different from what has been offered up to now. The entire point of opening a dedicated Gaelic school is to bring about a step change.

The same applies to the Council’s plans for expanding primary provision. Just as the secondary needs to serve all of Edinburgh and the Lothians, primary provision should reach different areas beyond the north east of the city. Instead of new Gaelic schools, however, the Council proposes to move backwards by opening two Gaelic units within English schools, an older system now considered inferior as it does not provide the desired immersion environment. It is suggested that these units could eventually become full Gaelic schools, but no real commitment is given.

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There is a real risk that the wrong plan will stifle Gaelic education in Edinburgh rather than promote it. It is crucial to take the time to develop a workable strategic plan that has the confidence of parents, meets the aspirations of the Gaelic community, and promotes sustainable development over the longer term.

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