Does Scotland have enough Gaelic teachers?

Pupils at the Bun-sgoil Taobh na Pirce Gaelic school in Edinburgh. It is one of six dedicated Gaelic schools in Scotland with four more to be built over the next five years. PIC: TSPL.
Pupils at the Bun-sgoil Taobh na Pirce Gaelic school in Edinburgh. It is one of six dedicated Gaelic schools in Scotland with four more to be built over the next five years. PIC: TSPL.
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With numbers of pupils learning Gaelic on the rise and new Gaelic schools in the pipeline, the need for suitably qualified teachers has never been higher.

The supply of teachers able to teach in Gaelic continues to be a priority for the Scottish Government as it pushes ahead with its key policy to protect and promote the language.

More than 4,300 students in Scotland received their education in Gaelic, at both primary and secondary level, in 2018, a 64% increase from 2010. Many more thousands learn Gaelic at some level in the classroom.

The Scottish Government said it did not hold figures on projected Gaelic teacher demand, with local authorities responsible for this area.

What is know is there are six dedicated Gaelic Medium Education (GME) schools in Scotland, with three in Glasgow, one in Benbecula, one in Inverness, one in Fort William and one under construction in Portree.

By 2024, another four Gaelic schools are planned to open with Glasgow in the midst of considering a £16m renovation of a derelict primary in Calton.

But Kenneth Muir, chief executive of General Teaching Council Scotland, said there were not enough Gaelic speaking teachers in the system to meet current levels of demand.

"Do we have enough Gaelic teachers at the moment? No we don't.

"There are a whole host of reasons why. One of them is the extent of people coming through who have the fluency in Gaelic to be a confident and competently skilled teacher in school.

READ MORE: Quiz: How good is your Scottish Gaelic

"That is a major area.

"There is also an issue of where the Gaelic speakers are from. We know that many are now in the central Belt and around Glasgow but one of the big issues is the extent to which we are able to attract people living in traditional Gaelic communities to train up as teachers.

"They may have the fluency that we need but they may well live in a rural area and not have access to a teacher training programme."

Initial Teacher Training Programmes for the Gaelic language are run by Edinburgh and Strathclyde Universities along with the University of Highlands and Islands.

READ MORE: New generation of Gaelic-speaking professionals to be created with new course

A report from the Scottish Funding Council, which allocates Scottish Government money for course, said universities faced difficulties filling the number of places allocated specifically for Gaelic-medium provision, particularly those open to graduates going down the postgraduate route.

Work is being done to encourage universities to offer the courses through distance learning to better open up opportunities to those living in rural areas, Mr Muir said.

Taster sessions in teaching could also be offered to those with Gaelic language skills to open up the potential of a classroom career, he added.

He said there were general issues with 'talking up' teaching as a career choice in Scotland.

Mr Muir added: "There is a major PR exercise to be done not just to attract people into teaching Gaelic, but the teaching profession as a whole."

He said "radical" approaches were required to boost teacher numbers, such as attracting people at the end of their careers who might was to give another three to five years to education.

"We do need to find a way to attract more teachers with Gaelic into the profession.

"We are trying to look at the gap that we know exists and put in place enough initiatives and programmes to encourage people to think about moving into teach in Gaelic sot that we can fill that gap that we anticipate increasing with the new schools coming on board."

Figures from the latest teaching census show there are 127 primary teachers currently teaching in Gaelic - up 29 from 2015.

A total of 326 teachers have indicated that they were able to teach in the language.

Work is now ongoing to attract teachers with Gaelic skills to move into teaching in the language.

Grant support is also available from Bòrd na Gàidhlig, which promotes the use of Gaelic on behalf of the Scottish Government, to give financial assistance to those moving into Gaelic teaching. One 24-year-old received £5,000 to help her leave full-time work and take up a teacher training place.

The number of secondary teachers using Gaelic has actually reduced since 2015, from 100 to 88 at the last count.

Of this 88, there are 69 teaching the Gaelic language.

Recruitment of Gaelic teachers at secondary level is now a priority of the Scottish Government.

A teacher at this level would need to have either a degree in Gaelic or at least 80 SCQF Credit Points with 40 being at Level 8 or above in Gaelic.

Mr Muir said he is confident that Scotland will be able to meet demands for Gaelic-speaking teachers.

"I think it the last year there has been a very significant shift in momentum , prompted by (Deputy First Minister) John Swinney and the Scottish Government, to bring together all the key agencies involved in this, including the General Teaching Council for Scotland, to knock our heads together and really look at the actions that can be taken.

"There is a lot of work going on as we speak to make sure that gap can be closed. There is increased demand in the system, so we have to deliver."

A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government said: "“Gaelic Medium Education (GME) teachers are helping develop a new generation of speakers.

"Bord na Gaidhlig run a teacher support scheme which supports people enter teacher training or early years teaching while the Gaelic Immersion for Teachers course is open to current teachers who speak Gaelic, but are not teaching in the language, giving them the skills to transfer in to GME.”