Second school set to replace English with Gaelic as classroom language

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A PRIMARY school plans to convert into only the second Gaelic medium school in Scotland because most of the children there already have it as their native tongue.

At Staffin Primary in the north of Skye, 25 out of the school's 30 pupils are natural Gaelic speakers and just five have English as their first language.

Highland Council has launched a six-week consultation into the plan, which would be a reversal of moves made by made many other schools where English has replaced Gaelic as the main language.

Hugh MacLeod, a Skye-born Gaelic-speaking parent who now lives near Inverness, said: "Skye is a stronghold for Gaelic and that is shown by the number of children now in Gaelic medium education units.

"It is right when Gaelic is the predominant language at a school that it is designated to reflect that."

The change would mirror the situation in Sleat, in the south of Skye, which in 2006 was the first Scottish school to teach in Gaelic with an English-medium unit.

The move is supported by both Gaelic and English-speaking parents in Staffin, which earlier this month was named Gaelic Community of the Year by the development agency Comunn na Gidhlig.

Ron MacKenzie, Highland Council's head of support services with the education, culture and sport department, said the change would increase opportunities to develop Gaelic both in the school and the wider community.

He said it would lead to extra-curricular activities in Gaelic and an emerging pride in the language of the school, resulting in it being more likely to be used in settings outside of the classroom such as the playground, dining areas and assemblies.

He added: "Gaelic medium education is viewed as the principal hope for the survival of Gaelic and therefore remains a high priority.

"A characteristic of Gaelic medium education is that although Gaelic is the medium of instruction in early primary years, English is introduced in the later years so that pupils become totally fluent in both languages. The effect of bilingualism at an early age is widely recognised."

The consultation was welcomed by Arthur Cormack, head of the national Gaelic development body, Brd na Gidhlig. "This would change the ethos at the school. At the moment having a Gaelic unit in what is essentially an English language school limits the Gaelic provision to pupils," he said.

"If they turn it into a Gaelic school with an English unit, then the default language of school activities will be Gaelic.

"That has to be a positive thing.

"It's now up to the parents if they want to go down this road, and I hope they do."

At present there are two dedicated Gaelic schools, in Inverness and Glasgow, but that could increase to six under plans to increase the number of Gaelic speakers.

Highland Council has plans for new buildings in Fort William and Portree, and others have been suggested for Edinburgh and the Western Isles.

An action plan published in April by Brd na Gidhlig envisages a four-fold increase in the number of teachers training in Gaelic, and an additional 2,000 adults learning the language by April 2012.

The agency wants to drive up the number of speakers from 58,000 at the last census in 2001 to 65,000 by 2021.

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