CONSERVATIVES ON GAELIC EDUCATION

Earlier this month we published a piece by Cllr Mary Campbell on how the Scottish Greens view the future of Gaelic Medium Education in Edinburgh.

Now it’s the turn of Cllr Callum Laidlaw, Conservative spokesperson on Education and a member of the Gaelic Implementation Group. 

Defining ‘best’ 

Every parent wants the best possible education for their children, and Edinburgh Council is committed to ‘getting it right for every child’. 

But ‘best’ is very subjective. Some parents happily pay huge amounts for private education, others opt for a good local community high school. And, of course, certain groups may seek religious instruction or learning of a particular language.

In the latter case, the Gaelic community have since 2012 been able to educate their children at Bun-sgoil Taobh na Pàirce, the Gaelic Medium Education (GME) primary school on Bonnington Road. Here, entry into P1 is open to parents across the city with no previous Gaelic learning or heritage required, and Council transport provided for those outside catchment. When their primary education here finishes, most pupils progress to the James Gillespie’s High School GME unit, where there are currently two dedicated Gaelic teachers, and Gaelic-speaking students are educated together. This transfer to Gillespie’s has remained the automatic right of Taobh na Pàirce pupils, despite rising rolls at Gillespie’s and the school now running above capacity.

Popularity brings pressure

This pressure at Gillespie’s, plus rising rolls at Taobh na Pàirce, has led the Council to examine alternatives for secondary GME, with possible expansion as more Gaelic-speaking teachers are recruited. This is a challenge not only in Edinburgh but across Scotland, but the Gaelic community has been promised that the Council’s ambition is to invest in and expand GME, with the aim of creating a multi-subject GME secondary school.

Drummond Community High School, with available capacity and proximity to Taobh na Pàirce, has been proposed, and the Council is now informally consulting  parents from Drummond, its feeder primaries and the Gaelic community.

It would certainly have been useful if the Council had been clearer about proposed options before the consultation began. Firstly, Drummond looks set to achieve capacity by the early to mid-2020s thanks to rising rolls. As a PFI-funded school there remain questions over how it could be further expanded, something the Council’s Education department needs to address. Secondly, it’s unclear what GME at Drummond would and could look like over time.

Integration is key

As a distinct but integrated part of Gillespie’s, the Gaelic unit has had much success, and the benefits of a distinct community of learners have enriched the broader school and added to an interested and engaged parent body. I firmly believe these benefits could be brought to Drummond, with GME students also benefiting from greater proximity to their primary school, easier access to the city centre and transport connections, and the possibility of accommodating rising rolls.

But for this to succeed I think the GME unit would need to be integrated within Drummond. The ambition for a dedicated Gaelic school, that would exclude those not wishing to be taught in the language, is currently unfeasible given the current staffing limitations and rolls. Yet the Council must also be fair to parents at Drummond and its feeders, as well as the Gaelic community, and be clear if this is their goal, should finances and recruitment allow.

My view is that an exclusively GME school would not reflect the inclusive community-based education Edinburgh schools should champion. Drummond is central to a diverse community and has made significant improvements over recent years. It is not fair to expect pupils at its current feeders to be dispersed, nor for the majority of parents to support GME while it remains the preference of a small minority (less than 1% of Scots speak the language).

Parents are entitled to GME, supported by the Scottish Government and its Gaelic Education Specific Grant. Clear benefits result from an immersive environment, especially in early-years education. But by secondary school, our goal should be for pupils to be sufficiently bilingual to mix with English speakers without this detracting from the development of Gaelic.  Many pupils across Edinburgh, particularly at Drummond, speak different languages at home. Some will learn other modern languages at school and indeed go on to speak them fluently, perhaps even studying abroad while still based in an English-speaking city. To claim that the Gaelic language can only be learnt and developed by excluding others seems unnecessarily divisive. 

Inclusive alternatives

So I believe that Drummond’s future could lie with the inclusion of a GME unit within it, but certainly shouldn’t involve the current community’s exclusion. I have been pressing the Council’s Education department for clearer answers on what GME provision at Drummond could look like, and am urging them to examine whether new schools in the South West, West and at Craigmillar could also house dedicated GME.

As a Conservative, I strongly believe in offering parents greater educational choices. That’s why I support specialisms, and recently campaigned for the City of Edinburgh Music School at Broughton to remain funded and supported. But specialisms exist as part of the broader school community, and require mutual benefits. I believe this must also be the case if GME is to come to Drummond.

 Spurtle has invited statements of similar length from Education spokespersons in all the other parties. We hope to publish them soon. In the meantime …

Got a view? Tell us at spurtle@hotmail.co.uk or @theSpurtle or Facebook

For background context and additional coverage,  see also Breaking news, 9.1.18; 16.1.18.

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[Spurtle Editor: That @CnPEdinburg link in full here.]

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