Gina Davidson: Gaelic U-turn is just a quick fix

These pupils from Gaelic-speaking Taobh Na Pairce Primary School give the council's u-turn the thumbs-up. Picture: Steven Scott Taylor
These pupils from Gaelic-speaking Taobh Na Pairce Primary School give the council's u-turn the thumbs-up. Picture: Steven Scott Taylor
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THE debacle around whether or not nine Gaelic-speaking primary kids could go to the high school they always expected to is the perfect example of the Gordian knot which the council is expert at tying.

Just last Friday it was reported that James Gillespie’s High could cater for 220 new first year students this year – up from 200.

However, that would mean nine children attending the Gillespie’s feeder primary, Parkside, the only Gaelic medium primary in the city, wouldn’t get in. There was no classroom capacity for a roll of 229 pupils.

And this particular nine were affected as they live outwith the school’s geographic catchment area, so like any other out-of-catchment request to a full school, they would have to be refused.

The problem, however, was that as children travel from all over Edinburgh to attend the Gaelic primary and Gillespie’s is the only high school to offer Gaelic medium teaching at the level required, they were bound to be out-of-catchment pupils.

So by Tuesday this week that decision had changed, and the nine will be able to go to Gillespie’s after all.

I’m pleased for the children that they now have places at the school they always thought they would attend – making the leap from primary to secondary is worrying enough.

However, it would be fascinating to discover how Gillespie’s will manage these extra numbers in the classroom if 220 was the expected maximum.

It would also be fascinating to know the thinking behind the change of heart. For there will be other children who live outwith the school’s catchment but who maybe attended a feeder primary but didn’t get in because it’s full.

Ultimately, what this episode does is shines a light on the apparent lack of planning done in regards to pupil numbers and the education on offer to Gaelic-speaking kids. Gillespie’s would have known how many P7 kids were coming from its feeder schools. It would have known that when the school was recently being rebuilt, so why is there not enough capacity?

The education department knows the demand which exists for Gaelic education and yet only one high school offers it at the level the children need. And of course it’s the one high school which for decades has been over-subscribed by parents, desperate to get their kids into one of the top state schools in the city.

Why, then, has there been no move to ensure other high schools can offer Gaelic? Why has there been no move to place the Gaelic curriculum at another high school, which has fewer issues with pupil numbers?

Of course, in changing the decision, the education department has left its catchment area policy in tatters. How can it now refuse any child a place at Gillespie’s if they go to a feeder primary without allegations of discrimination?

The council either needs to ensure another high school can offer Gaelic schooling or it should expect future legal challenges from unhappy non-Gaelic-speaking parents who want their kids to go to Gillespie’s.

Which enrolment numbers are right?

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a few lines welcoming the new board members appointed by the somewhat beleaguered Edinburgh College. I made reference to 70 staff having been “sacked” in the past few years due to budget issues, and I’d like to make it clear that there were no compulsory redundancies.

Also, it seems that while the EIS has claimed there’s been a decline in student numbers due to funding cuts, the college refutes this. A 40 per cent drop in enrolments is how the union put it from 2010-14 (though the college merger wasn’t complete until 2012).

The college says that individual student numbers have risen from 18,449 in 2013/14 to 19,497 in 2014/15.

However, one of the college’s own documents about student numbers states that in 2012 there were “around 22,000”.

I look forward to being corrected further.

Dalkeith teens are credit to their generation

YOUNG people can get a lot of bad press. Teenagers are monosyllabic, uninterested in anything outside their iPhones and Xboxes unless it’s cheap booze. There’s nothing like a generalisation to write off a generation.

Of course, it’s nonsense. And last week I saw just how much nonsense. I went to Dalkeith High School to see 14-year-olds take part in the Young Philanthropy Initiative.

They had to get up on stage in front of their peers and teachers to give presentations about charities which they’ve researched, contacted, helped out, all in the hope of winning them £3000.

The kids who made it to the final were obviously nervous, but they did it. And they seemed genuinely involved with the organisations they were representing.

Thousands of kids across Scotland are doing this every year – thousands of teenagers developing a bond with the society in which they live. More power to them.

Let’s hope MSPs listen to charity

MACMILLAN Cancer Support in Scotland has called for all cancer patients to be given a needs assessment to make sure their emotional, financial, practical and physical problems – that can last long after treatment ends – are dealt with properly.

The charity wants the idea to be adopted by political parties in the run-up to the Holyrood elections. Let’s hope its voice, and others like it, are listened to as avidly by current and wannabe MSPs as those of big business and unions.