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New Gaelic schools plan for county?

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Hamish Fraser wants more Gaelic schools in Caithness and Sutherland.
Hamish Fraser wants more Gaelic schools in Caithness and Sutherland.

A LEADING Highland councillor has suggested that Sutherland could be in line for new Gaelic medium education units.

Councillor Hamish Fraser, chairman of the authority’s Gaelic Implementation Group, said new Gaelic units could be established in both Caithness and Sutherland.

Only two Gaelic medium units currently exist in Sutherland – at Bonar Bridge Primary School (14 pupils) and Tongue Primary School (6) – plus there is an active Gaelic parent and toddler group at Kinlochbervie.

Mr Fraser was speaking as the council agreed its new Gaelic language plan covering the next four years.

One of the main planks of the policy is to identify areas where new units could be established.

However, any move to expand Gaelic medium education locally could cause controversy.

In January 2010, East Sutherland and Edderton ward councillor Deirdre Mackay said that the cash-strapped council does not have enough money to spend on Gaelic developments.

Councillor Mackay provoked a furore at the time when she told Brora Community Council that Scottish government legislation requiring local authorities to draw up a Gaelic policy was “fundamentally wrong”.

She criticised it as an elitist policy which favoured the few rather than the many.

She said Highland Council had to meet the bill for Gaelic education, Gaelic development jobs and Gaelic road, street and building signs which were often erected to the opposition of local communities.

She said at the time: “It’s fundamentally wrong. Even in times when Highland Council was awash with money, there were arguments against it.”

Councillor Mackay also queried why bilingual education in the Highlands had to mean Gaelic. She asked why it could not be another language such as Spanish, Urdu or Chinese.

Approached earlier this week, Councillor Mackay said she was unaware of Councillor Fraser’s remarks and did not want to comment at this point on the prospect of new Gaelic medium units in Sutherland.

Almost 800 primary age pupils across the Highland Council area are now being taught in Gaelic – a rise of 7.7 per cent in the last five years. A further 295 children attend Gaelic nursery or playgroup.

The region’s first standalone Gaelic school, the £4 million Bun-sgoil Ghaidhlig Inbhir Nis, had to be expanded to meet demand following its 2007 opening.

The 155 pupil school in Inverness made the news this week after it emerged that the only candidate for the vacant head teacher post is the current acting head – who does not speak Gaelic. Annika Jansson, from Sweden, is due to be interviewed next week.

The council has advertised the post since 2010, with the proviso that applicants must speak Gaelic. But that condition was lifted recently to encourage more teachers to apply, without success.

A new Gaelic school for Lochaber is currently under way and ambitious plans are in the pipeline for a similar venture in Portree.

Councillor Fraser said a “mapping exercise” looking at Gaelic education provision across the North was currently under way.

“Various academic studies have shown the benefits of bilingualism and I think parents increasingly see the value of their children learning a second language. It gives them an edge.”

Councillor Fraser claimed attracting Gaelic speaking teachers for Gaelic medium primary units was not a problem but conceded the situation was different in secondary schools.

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