Inverness Gaelic school head quits after 8 months

James Lyon was appointed after a four-year search but is leaving after just eight months. Picture: Peter JollyJames Lyon was appointed after a four-year search but is leaving after just eight months. Picture: Peter Jolly
James Lyon was appointed after a four-year search but is leaving after just eight months. Picture: Peter Jolly
THE headteacher of a flagship Gaelic School in Inverness - appointed just eight months ago after a controversial and protracted four-year search - is to leave.

The shock decision by James Lyon means Highland Council must start a staggering ninth recruitment drive to hunt for a new permanent head, whose salary will be £48,120.

The local authority took an astonishing eight attempts to finally fill the post last November.

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The appointment had been a contentious episode for the authority, with a handful of parents demanding a fluent Gaelic speaker be given the job.

In another twist, the school – which has 187 pupils and 90 in nursery, and which broke up for the summer holidays yesterday (Thur) – currently has no deputy head either, although interviews are taking place this week.

Mr Lyon, 45, took up the role having been acting head at the school since last April. But he is now leaving to take up the headteacher’s post at Grantown Primary, which is nearer his home in Forres.

The move to appoint him last year was considered potentially controversial as Mr Lyon, also a professional football referee, was not a fluent Gaelic speaker, but he apparently won over most parents as he was committed to learning the language.

Local Inverness South councillor Ken Gowans, whose daughter Breagha attends the nursery and moves to P1 next term, said: “It is disappointing that James has decided to move on, but that is his personal decision.

“There has been no internal row about him being in the post, it is merely a decision by him to seek another job at another school.

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“He was a popular headteacher and was liked by all the parents I speak to, so there was nothing sinister in the move.”

He added: “I certainly hope the new appointment is smoother than the controversy in the past.

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“I think most people are of the opinion that the next candidate does not necessarily need to be fluent in Gaelic as the headteacher’s role is managerial. I do not have a problem if we appoint someone who does not speak Gaelic.”

Highland Council last night the headteacher of Bun-sgoil Ghàidhlig Inbhir Nis – Inverness Gaelic Primary School – has been appointed as Head Teacher of Grantown Primary School.

He will take up his post at Grantown Primary School at the start of the new school session in August.

A spokeswoman added: “The council will work closely with the school’s Parent Council to advertise the post of headteacher at the Bun-sgoil in August when schools across the country re-open after the summer holiday.

“The council is currently making arrangements for interim management of the school.”

The school was left divided when a major row broke out two years ago when Swedish-born Annika Jansson, who had been acting head and did not speak Gaelic, went for the job.

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But she failed to win promotion, despite being the only candidate for the position.

It followed a vociferous campaign by Comann nam Parant Inbhir Nis, a Gaelic parent organisation, that a Gaelic speaking teacher should be given the role.

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The group was highly critical of Highland Council’s inability to find a Gaelic speaking candidate.

However, some parents were angry at the decision not to appoint her, claiming only a small minority were against her.

When the £4million school opened in 2007, it was the first purpose-built Gaelic-medium school in Scotland.

However, for four years, Highland Council had difficulties filling the head teacher role.

At the time a European minority languages organisation raised concerns about making a non Gaelic-speaking appointment.

The European Language Equality Network wrote to Highland Council asking it to consider alternative ways to fill the post with a Gaelic speaker.

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Also, Bord na Gaidhlig, the agency responsible for improving Gaelic, has said it would like to see every Gaelic school run by Gaelic speakers, but that was not always possible.

Councillor Alasdair Christie, chairman of the council’s adult and children’s services committee, said there was “no evidence” the appointment of a non-Gaelic speaker could damage pupils’ learning, adding: “The recruitment for the Gaelic school has been a difficult process and the post has been advertised many times in the past few years to try and attract suitable applicants.

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“The headteacher is not a class-facing role, it is a managerial role and if a non-fluent Gaelic-speaking headteacher is appointed the council will put in place measures and processes to ensure the school continues to have the correct ethos.”

At the last census it was revealed that Scotland has just over 59,000 Gaelic speakers, a decline of almost 7,000 in a decade.

Government spending on gaelic education has soared, increasing from £19.2million in 2009/10 to £21.7million in 2010–11.