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Moderator's 'Concern' Over Gaelic Education Changes

Monday February 29

The Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland has said he is ‘surprised and saddened’ by proposed changes to Gaelic-medium secondary education in Edinburgh.

The Rt Rev Dr Angus Morrison warned of a ‘potentially disastrous consequence’ of the City of Edinburgh Council’s proposals to withdraw children’s places at James Gillespie’s High School, where there are currently classes in Gaelic in every year.

Dr Morrison said: “I have been surprised and saddened to learn at the weekend of an apparent crisis in Gaelic medium education in Edinburgh. Parents of P7 children at the Gaelic Primary School, Taobh na Pairce, have received a letter giving notice of a planned withdrawal of the children’s place at James Gillespie’s High School which provides comprehensive Gaelic education from S1 to Higher under the guidance of a headteacher who is a native Gaelic speaker.

“I am deeply concerned about the potentially disastrous consequence of this development for the long term provision of Gaelic education at secondary level in Edinburgh. I am particularly concerned about the effect of this decision on the P7 children involved who have always known they would go to this secondary and have over the last year made preparatory visits to their new school. I know they are upset to see their future studies under threat.

“It is important that parents in Edinburgh committing to educate their children in Gaelic as well as the English language, can be confident the secondary education is stable. If parents are not confident about the secondary education this could have an impact on the number of families committed to making their children part of a drive to revitalise this fragile language which is an important part of Scotland’s heritage. I fear that if Gaelic is allowed to wither in Scotland’s capital, it becomes very fragile indeed. What message does the City of Edinburgh Council send out to the world if it is proposing to make the language more vulnerable than it already is?

“The Scottish education system has, in my opinion, historically contributed in a major way to the decline of Gaelic by deriding and physically punishing children for speaking the language. I believe it should be making amends by doing everything it can to revitalise it.  The Scottish Government’s evident support for Gaelic is commendable and appreciated. However the number of children learning Scottish Gaelic is eclipsed by the numbers taught in Welsh and Irish Gaelic. Scotland cannot afford to see Gaelic education decline in its capital.

“I would urge the Council’s education committee at its meeting on Tuesday to suspend this flawed process until, at the very least, a proper consultation with all affected parties has been undertaken.”

Dr Morrison, former minister of St Columba’s Church in Stornoway, is the Church’s first Gaelic-speaking Moderator in several decades and has made promotion of the language one of the themes of his year in the position. He hosted the Church’s first conference on the Gaelic language last year, and announced a follow up training conference for Gaelic speaking ministers is to be held this year. He also gave the opening address at the Royal National Mod last October when it was held in his home town of Oban.

City of Edinburgh Council said that it was not true that school places were being withdrawn, but that some P7 pupils may be unsuccessful in getting a place at James Gillespie. No places in that or any other school had been confirmed.

Councillor Paul Godzik, convener of the council's Education, Children and Families Committee, said: “We are aware of concerns raised by some parents regarding potential S1 pupil numbers at James Gillespie’s High School and Gaelic provision. These are currently being considered ahead of tomorrow’s meeting of the Education, Children and Families Committee where the report will be discussed by Councillors.
“The Council continues to provide a significant commitment to Gaelic education in the city as shown by the opening of the dedicated primary school in 2013 and increased provision at Tynecastle and its cluster primaries. Gaelic is embedded very successfully into the life and ethos of many of the schools which use the language for their pupils’ learning.”

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