Gaelic education in Edinburgh and Glasgow

25407034.jpg-pwrt3It’s a positive indicator of the health of the Gaelic language, that over the past week we have heard news that not just one of Scotland’s dedicated Gaelic Medium Education (GME) schools, but two are bursting to full. GME is and should be open to all, and in my experience welcomes children and families from a truly diverse range of cultural backgrounds. Many children speak three languages at home and it’s a wonderful environment to bring cultures together whilst celebrating and keeping our indigenous culture alive.

Such is the rising popularity of a Gaelic language school environment, that in Glasgow, even children brought up with Gaelic as a first language are unable to secure a place at a school a mile and a half away. The evidence demonstrates high uptake of places in schools where GME is offered, to the point that we now need more provision. The curriculum and expertise already exists, it doesn’t cost any more to train these teachers or to administer a GME school than it does English language education, but despite negligable financial barriers and a prior knowledge of this exponential growth there has been little planning for this.

The ‘is Gaelic worthwhile’ argument is a contentious one but regardless of which side of the fence you are on, Gaelic has been recognised as an official language of Scotland since 2006 and certain public bodies must have a Gaelic language plan.

The City of Edinburgh Council (CEC) is one such organisation. CEC identified 6 years ago that there would be more pupils of secondary level than they would have capacity for, and as yet there is no dedicated high school to provide for the future growth and community of those learning in Gaelic.

GME in Edinburgh is provided at Bun-sgoil Taobh na Pàirce. Children attending this primary school are not taught Gaelic, they are taught in Gaelic. The language is not seen simply as an added bonus.

There are many excellent bun-sgoil around the country but unfortunately there is only one dedicated Gaelic secondary school and it is in Glasgow. All the other GME kids in Scotland have to go to the designated secondary school in their area where they get some (but not all) subjects in Gaelic.

This means that the normal catchment rules don’t apply. If there is only one school in your area providing GME then it has to serve the all the people who want it and not just those who can live close by. In Edinburgh, children from Bun-sgoil Taobh na Pàirce go to James Gillespie’s. Except, it turns out, this year the children were issued letters saying that they might not be able to go and 9 of them would be separated from their friends and their GME studies.

All current primary seven children have already been preparing for the huge transition into secondary. There will have been meetings and ‘transitional visits’ and all were told they had places reserved. It must have been a huge shock for parents to receive, without any warnings or consultation, a letter informing them that not all the children will be able to attend.

Regardless of the language aspect to this problem, the effect of this bombshell on the children would be devastating. Removing them from their peer group at such a stressful time could be very detrimental on their overall academic attainment.

The council proposed to effectively remove some children from GME against their parents’ wishes. The very survival of the language depends on ensuring there is provision of GME where there is demand. Not only would the fluency of those children (some of whom are not native speakers and therefore not getting Gaelic in other settings) undoubtedly be affected but the exclusion of them would deny them access to the wider Gaelic community. This community and immersion is crucial for the Gaelic culture and language to thrive.

GME is inclusive and multicultural. It is open to all who choose it. If the CEC were to go ahead and reduce their intake of GME students that decision would have meant that only those who can afford to live within the catchment area for James Gillespie’s would be able to access Gaelic. Those parents from less affluent areas or Edinburgh, who have already shown their commitment for up to nine years by traipsing across the city, would have been denied. Meaning GME would be an exclusive choice only open to the wealthy.

The recent proposal by CEC flies in the face of their own Gaelic language plan which states that ‘The City of Edinburgh Council recognises that the status of a language is affected by its presence in the environment and the extent to which it is used, valued, and perceived to be valued by those institutions which play an important role in everyday life.’

If the catchment for GME is the ‘City of Edinburgh’ then the exclusion of these children would have been discriminatory if it were conducted as proposed. I wonder whether such a move would be in keeping with their legislative responsibilities. Perhaps that’s why the Council removed the report from their Education Committee meeting yesterday, on advice from their legal department.

For these children, this year, they have been granted the life they were expecting to transition to, and after the upset have now been advised they will all receive letters confirming a place to attend JGHS GME stream with their friends. But what about the children next year? And the years after that?

Splitting students up would cause the same problems, likewise sending them to a school that does not have the expertise or teachers to provide GME. The cultural and emotional impacts upon them will be seismic. City of Edinburgh Council have announced they will undertake a consultation towards identifying a solution for next year’s intake, but aside from expanding provision at JGHS or moving all the GME pupils with the teaching expertise to a new estate, it seems unlikely that CEC will be able to appoint teaching expertise to provide GME education at another High School which has no expertise in it.

How are the burgeoning numbers to be accommodated, if Councils don’t start to take the Gaelic renaissance seriously? A longer term solution needs to be sought, and it needs to be open to more children to meet the demand, and the rights of children to learn.

I hope that the council have realised they huge mistake they would have been made, and instead plan so that Gaelic is open to all that want it, not just for this year or a few years hence, but for all the children in nursery and those still to come. This groundswell of new young speakers is a tremendous opportunity, and we should accommodate it, before it’s too late.

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  1. Màrtainn says:

    What concerns me even more is that the number of subjects taught through Gaelic at James Gillespie’s is ridiculously low, Gaelic, English and Art only I think. That really isn’t good enough, GME pupils need to get taught through the medium of Gaelic from 3-18 otherwise we really are loosing the battle. I for one know a good few people who got GME Primary Education and none at Secondary, none of whom can hold any more than a basic conversation in the language today.

    1. peaky76 says:

      If you’re gonna have three subjects taught in Gaelic, why is one of them English?!? Any language is best taught in that language.

      1. Danny MacTavish says:

        Presumably that will mean their Gaelic will be better than their English then. Usually immersion is the best way to learn but as kids are immersed in English anyway, learning how to describe English grammar and analyse it in Gaelic will be a bonus. Teaching English through English is more of a bonus in countries where its not the first language. If they could study history and maths too that would be great so the key is to encourage history and maths graduates to learn Gaelic and become teachers.

        1. Kenny Beaton says:

          I’m pretty sure English is taught in English at James Gillespie’s!

          Gaelic (obvs!), History, Modern Studies, RE and PE are offered there – still not enough probably.

  2. seonaidh says:

    Good piece.

    The demand is there in Dun Eideann. It’s time for CEC to start the process of setting up a Gaidhlig secondary as well as new GME units.

    I speak Gaelic at home to my kids but as I live on the western edges of the city, I don’t relish young kids having 90 minutes commuting time each day. Sadly, they are going to attend their local English-only primary. However, I do know of parents from West Lothian and Fife who send there kids miles into Edinburgh for GME. Surely it’s not beyond the wit of our Councillors to come to some agreement for a school closer to all in/ to the west of Edinburgh? I’d imagine parents in East and Midlothian have similar issues.

    Feumaidh sinn ar guthan a thogail. Gu h-araid ro thaghadh a’ Chomhairle.

    1. seonaidh says:

      their kids…

      Na dolas typos a tha sin!!

  3. Eric says:

    There is a dimension to this issue that has not been mentioned here. The provision of Gaelic in Edinburgh secondary schools is seen very much as a feather in the cap of interested schools and over a number of years Tynecastle High School has been at the forefront of competing schools to offer this facility. Now that it finally appears to have been successful in its bid to offer to provide Gaelic in its curriculum, alongside the present facility offered by JGHS, the true and unfortunately ugly nature of the argument against its so doing is revealed.

    What it comes down to is this. JGHS is one of the magnet council controlled high schools in the Edinburgh authority. Meaning, it draws largely from an affluent middle class catchment area and as a result enjoys good ratings in the odious yearly league tables of SQA awards. Tynecastle, by contrast, draws from a much more socially deprived catchment area and its achievements, in terms of SQA awards, is consequently much lower. These facts owe little or nothing to the efforts and abilities of the respective staffs; the overwhelming evidence from educational success research studies show that the single most influential factor in a child’s chances of academic success lie in that child’s background. There was a time when THS enjoyed much greater academic awards success than is presently the case. That was simply down to the fact that the catchment area in the past included a number of feeder primaries that, in terms of population, were a good few notches up the socio-economic ladder. Unfortunately now we have the situation where catchment boundaries mean a lot less than they used to and so ‘magnet’ schools and ‘sink’ schools have become much more polarised and self-perpetuating.

    So now we have the situation where a school, despite great efforts to improve itself on a number of fronts, including having the prestiguous ‘Gaelic’ tag attached to its name, is coming up against naked class antagonism. Let’s simply call it snobbery. Middle class parents (and that’s what the Gaelic cohort indubitably are) are not prepared to have their children rub shoulders with the hoi poloi. Simply that. Arguments such as their children being educationally disadvantaged do not stand scrutiny for a moment. Where is the evidence? Of course there is none, since it is mere hypothesis about a situation that does not yet exist, about courses that have not yet been set up, about teachers who are not yet in place.

    Let’s please have an end to the indignant tone and spin about lack of provision for a body of pupils who are under-provided for by a feckless education authority. Let’s have instead a positive thrust towards and celebration of something like the comprehensive ideal that has gone so awry since its inception, yet never been officially abandoned (and there are still scholarly studies that show the system enjoys much more comparative success than is commonly imagined). By so doing let’s start to combat the social segregation that acts as a cancer in the body of a society’s health. Give THS the chance to show that it too can provide a high quality of Gaelic education alongside that of JGHS and cease this ugly social apartheid.

    1. Wilson McLeod says:

      This comment repeats the basic distortion propounded by Edinburgh Council. Tynecastle does not offer Gaelic-medium education and has no staff qualified to deliver it. So this plan would mean denying the Gaelic-medium pupils any continuation of their Gaelic-medium education. Conceivably, the Council could hire new Gaelic-medium teachers at Tynecastle to expand its provision, but they have struggled to find enough Gaelic-medium teachers for Gillespie’s. Beyond that, by splitting the GM group it would be more difficult to expand the range of subjects taught through Gaelic – only increased cohort sizes make that possible.

    2. Kenny Beaton says:

      Eric could have edited his ramblings more succinctly. Perhaps if he was more informed he needn’t have gone off on a soliloquy on alleged class division.

      As Wilson says, the only Gaelic provision at Tynecastle is at learner level, which is inappropriate for fluent GME level pupils. The SQA do not allow GME pupils to sit learner exams.

      1. Eric says:

        Kenny seems to ignore the nub of my argument – does he believe there is no resistance to THS providing a capacity for Gaelic learning in addition to JGHS? I very much doubt that, as it is so self-evident. Does he then think this resistance is unrelated to social class prejudice?

        If so, then I fear he is either deluding himself or wishes to ignore it for convenience.

        1. Kenny Beaton says:

          Eric – I don’t deny that there is resistance to having Gaelic High School provision at Tynecastle, but it has nothing to with social class snobbery. I suggest the social class snobbery comes from the likes of yourself, by assuming that all GME parents are middle class snobs.

          Many of us come from the islands, having grown up on crofts where it was more of a subsistence living – hardly middle class snobs. Many parents now come from Leith, die to the location of the primary school – also not known for its middle class snobbery.

          Previously the GME unit was at Tollcross, which is an inner city school with its own share of deprivation. This is also the catchment area for James Gillespie’s, hence why the Gaelic provision is at JGHS. It has been built up over many years and it’s not just a simple case of moving it to another school. Also, GME pupils have contributed to the success of JGHS – they perform better than their peers with one language, on average.

          It begs the question, why Tynecastle? Why choose one of the poorest performing schools in the city just because it has spare capacity? Why disadvantage GME pupils in this way? Shouldn’t Edinburgh be proud of the success story of GME and seek to improve it rather than try and bump it off into one of the lowest performing schools, which has no track record in GME, and no GME parent has asked for? Any rearrangement of highs school GME has to be done in consultation with parents, as CEC’s own legal department reminded councillors.

          Ideally, CEC should plan now for a dedicated GME high school in Edinburgh, as they have had in Glasgow for years.

  4. Eman says:

    ‘S e deagh airtigil a th’ anns an-seo – taing. Tha mi a’ dol leat, a Mhàrtainn, gum bu chòir do roghainn slàn de chuspairean a bhith ann rim faighinn aig àrd-sgoil Ghillesbeag. Chan eil bogadh èifeachdach mura h-eil oileanaich air am bogadh sa chànan.

    A good article – thanks. I agree with you, Màrtainn, that there should be the full range of subjects available at James Gillespies. For language immersion to work, students need to be immersed.

  5. sandy ritchie says:

    Trouble is there’s consequences. By accepting kids from well outside the catchment area means that some kids from schools within the catchment area may be separated from their primary school friends if they are denied a place by a Gaelic speaker living miles away out with the catchment.

    1. Wilson McLeod says:

      A misconception. All pupils attending Bun-sgoil Taobh na Pàirce are formally classified as catchment pupils for Gillespie’s.

    2. Kenny Beaton says:

      Also, all S1 catchment pupils are getting places – no pupils are being denied places because of GME pupils.

  6. Catarina says:

    The local authority would like to move GME pupils to Tynecastle as it is underused and proposed this several years ago. The current HT of Gillespie’s is Gaelic speaking and has children of his own in the school, so he’s become a supporter of the GME provision. One of the two Gaelic teachers from Gillespie’s goes across to teach a beginner’s class at Tynecastle. That’s the truth behind the perceived class drama. A genuine issue is that Edinburgh has great trouble retaining Gaelic teachers at primary and secondary levels, because of housing costs in the capital.

  7. Alf Baird says:

    I agree more should be done for the Gaelic language. But let’s not forget that Scotland has two main indigenous languages, and one language far more prevalent than Gaelic which receives no effective statutory recognition or consideration. Why is there ongoing discrimination against any (statutory) provision of Scots Medium Education? I’d love for mys kids to properly learn their mither tongue, which is the Scots language we speak at home and in informal settings and I am sure many other Scots would wish for that as well. If equality is about fairness, where is the Scots Language (Scotland) Act? Is the widespread teaching of the Scots language just too much of a political hot potato for the Scottish/UK Establishment to handle, and by implication is Gaelic much less of a political risk? Language is the culture of the people and without it we are all diminished.

    1. Ken Guthrie says:

      I agree that Scots should be encouraged and fostered, and I hope no-one in authority will try a divide-and-rule strategy to pit Gaelic and Scots speakers against each other. It’s not either/or but both/and.

      1. Well said Ken – that’s precisely the approach Bella and our Gaelic & Scots’ editors take to the issue.

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