Refusing Gaelic pupils ‘potentially disastrous’, council warned

John Gillespie's High School is set to turn away students in its catchment. Picture: Jon Savage
John Gillespie's High School is set to turn away students in its catchment. Picture: Jon Savage
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THE Moderator of the Church of Scotland’s General Assembly has warned of “potentially disastrous” consequences if Gaelic pupils are refused places at James Gillespie’s High School.

The school is set to become the first secondary in Edinburgh to refuse places to pupils from its catchment area after education bosses calculated the S1 intake for August is likely to be oversubscribed by up to nine places.

Gillespie’s is the designated high school for youngsters from the Capital’s Gaelic-medium primary, but they are the ones most likely to be turned away because they come from all over the city and travel distance will be the key factor. The council said pupils could instead go to the secondary school in their own area, or to Tynecastle High, where there is some Gaelic provision.

But the Rt Rev Dr Angus Morrison, a champion of the Gaelic language, has stepped into the row, pointing out Gillespie’s offered comprehensive Gaelic education from S1 to Higher under the guidance of a headteacher who is a native Gaelic speaker.

Dr Morrison said the P7 children involved had always known they would go to Gillespie’s and had already visited it. He said: “I know they are upset to see their future studies under threat.

“I am deeply concerned about the potentially disastrous consequence of this development for the long-term provision of Gaelic education at secondary level in Edinburgh.

“It is important that parents in Edinburgh committing to educate their children in Gaelic as well as the English language can be confident the secondary education is stable.

“If parents are not confident about the secondary education, this could have an impact on the number of families committed to making their children part of a drive to revitalise this fragile language which is an important part of Scotland’s heritage.

“I fear that if Gaelic is allowed to wither in Scotland’s capital, it becomes very fragile indeed.”

The issue is scheduled to be discussed at today’s meeting of the council’s education committee.

Committee leader Paul Godzik said: “We are aware of concerns raised by some parents regarding potential S1 pupil numbers at James Gillespie’s High School and Gaelic provision.

“The council continues to provide a significant commitment to Gaelic education in the city, as shown by the opening of the dedicated primary school in 2013 and increased provision at Tynecastle and its cluster primaries.

“Gaelic is embedded very successfully into the life and ethos of many of the schools which use the language for their pupils’ learning.”

A report to the committee says Gillespie’s intake has been increased from 200 to 220 to cope with demand and there are currently 243 pupils from the catchment registered to start S1 in August, but the figure is expected to fall to 229 by the start of session.