PRIMARY schools will be forced to teach in Gaelic, even if their area has no history of using the language.
At present only 3,500 pupils across Scotland are taught their day-to-day lessons in the Gaelic language.
But a new law passed by the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday means councils across the country will have to provide an education in the language if a parent asks them to.
The Education (Scotland) Bill was agreed in parliament by MSPs earlier this week.
Among the many new regulations it contains is a ruling that all councils should provide a “Gaelic medium education” at primary schools should parents request it.
A “Gaelic medium education” means that the everyday language of lessons – whether they be in maths, science or computing – would be Gaelic, rather than English.
The bill reads: “The parent of a child…may request the education authority in whose area the
child is resident to assess the need for Gaelic medium primary education.”
If a parent asks for the council to assess the “need” for their child to be taught in Gaelic then the council must undertake a lengthy assessment process before either approving or denying the request.
If the request is approved then the council will have to make arrangements for children to be taught in the language.
But the new bill has been slated by many – who have observed that cash-strapped councils in areas with no Gaelic history will also be forced to teach in the language.
Shetland MSP Tavish Scott said: “Once again, the Scottish government has refused to recognise that there is no tradition of Gaelic in Shetland.
“Yet Shetland Islands Council could be left in a position where it is forced to use some of its already stretched budget to fund Gaelic education.
“I know that many parents, teachers and pupils in Shetland will wonder why their government impose an approach to education that would take money away from the needs of schools across the islands.
“It’s time for the Scottish government to recognise that a one-size-fits-all approach to education is not right. Indeed, if the government were ever to look at Shetland’s historical language connections they would find that we have far more ties with Norwegian than Gaelic.
“Our primary school teachers are already helping pupils with languages. Languages for that the next generation need and want to learn. Forcing Gaelic on Shetland is not the right approach.”
A spokeswoman for Education Minister Alasdair Allan replied: “Through this education bill, the SNP has created a presumption in favour of Gaelic-medium primary education where there is parental demand for it and where it can be shown to be reasonable for local authorities to provide it.
“No local authority will have to provide Gaelic education where there is no demand or justification for it.
“Our commitment to Gaelic is resulting in more children growing up learning and speaking one of our indigenous languages. That’s surely something all MSPs should celebrate.”
The news has come hot on the heels of a string of controversies over the Gaelic language in Scotland.
Last August police earned ridicule by unveiling a new helicopter branded with “Poileas Alba” – the Gaelic for “Police Scotland” – on its side.
And in January Bord Na Gaidhlig – the quango responsible for promoting the language in Scotland – were branded “ridiculous” after it was revealed they were set to pay £130,000 to have an outside expert teach them the language, in spite of being “accomplished Gaelic speakers”.
In response to your recent article relating to your local MSP Mr Tavish Scott’s reported remarks on the Education Bill, I think that I should set the record straight.
Mr Scott is incorrect by suggesting that the teaching of Gaelic is being forced on schools in Shetland. That would be entirely the wrong approach to take and were it to be correct, I would also have concerns. What the Bill does ensure is that parents anywhere in Scotland have the right to make application for Gaelic-medium primary education, and they, in turn, have the right to have these requests treated in a fair and equitable manner. There will be very clear advice and statutory guidance made available to Councils including Shetland Islands Council to ensure that an appropriate and proportionate approach is taken to any such requests. This has been made clear to MSPs on a number of occasions and it is disappointing that Mr Scott seems not to have accepted this.
Bruce Robertson OBE
Bòrd na Gàidhlig