Scottish Daily Mail

Parent power Bill may force schools to run Gaelic classes

- By Graham Grant Home Affairs Editor

PARENTS will be able to force councils to consider providing Gaelic education under latest SNP plans.

An Education Bill published yesterday by the Scottish Government sets out measures aimed at promoting the dying tongue.

Local authoritie­s would have to conduct detailed studies of demand for Gaelic primary schooling, if even a single parent requested it.

If the plan was considered viable, the council would have to form a Gaelic medium education (GME) unit, with English taught as a second language.

Last night the emphasis on bolstering Gaelic was criticised at a time of fears over declining classroom standards.

Tory MSP Alex Johnstone said: ‘Having Gaelic provision is important and certain communitie­s require it.

‘However, with more nurses needed in our hospitals, improvemen­ts needed on our roads, crumbling school buildings and investment needed in fighting crime, you have to wonder if Gaelic education should be the Scottish Government’s top priority.’

He said ‘millions have been spent on Gaelic provision’ despite it being spoken by a minority of Scots, adding: ‘The public would rather see that money spent on frontline services.’

Explanator­y notes attached to the draft Bill say councils ‘must secure the provision of such Gaelic Medium Primary Education as it considers appropriat­e’.

The document adds: ‘ It is expected that local authoritie­s will be able to meet these new costs [of setting up Gaelic units] by re-allocating funding from within their existing resources for Gaelic, primarily those provided through the Gaelic Specific Education Grant and the Gaelic Schools Capital Fund.’

A parent would have to show the families of other youngsters in the child’s year group are interested in GME when request-

‘Money better spent on services’

ing a study of the viability of setting up a GME unit.

GME units can cost up to £200,000 to build and £80,000 a year to run. The Scottish Government says a ‘reasonable estimate for the impact of the Bill might be that it would result in one new unit every two years’.

But officials admit: ‘A more significan­t increase in the rate of new units opening as a result of the Bill is unlikely given other constraint­s on the system such as the availabili­ty of teachers.’

The number of Gaelic speakers has fallen despite millions being spent on efforts to revive it. The Census shows numbers have fallen by 1.2 per cent in a decade, with only 58,000 now classed as speakers. The previous decade saw numbers plunge by 11 per cent, or more than 10,000.

In 2010 Government quango Bòrd na Gàidhlig, which promotes Gaelic, said it was prepared to punish public bodies including councils that fail to co-operate in its bid to save the language from extinction by urging ministers to withhold funding.

Meanwhile, Education Secretary Angela Constance yesterday announced an additional £1million for councils to buy textbooks for use with the Curriculum for Excellence (CfE).

Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the EIS teaching union, said: ‘The CfE has brought some financial implicatio­ns for schools, so it is welcome that the Scottish Government has listened to teachers’ concerns in making this additional investment.’

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