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Fees go to boost Gaelic intake

The Education Minister this week accepted all the recommendations of a working group set up to head off the crisis caused by the failure to attract sufficient Gaelic-medium teachers.

This includes a proposal to abolish course fees for part-time students in teacher education, which cost each student around pound;1,500 a year. Such a move could have far-reaching consequences.

Matthew MacIver, registrar of the General Teaching Council for Scotland, who chaired the working group, agreed the move would have "huge implications" for other shortage subjects.

But Peter Peacock insisted on Tuesday, when the report was launched at Tollcross primary's Gaelic-medium unit in Edinburgh, that the issue of part-time fees would be confined to teacher education only. Any decision would have to be approved by ministers in the lifelong learning department, which has responsibility for the universities.

The Scottish Executive is known to harbour what are described as "ambitions" to scrap fees for all part-time courses, beginning with teacher education, as a key ingredient of its lifelong strategy.

The proposal was prompted by what Mr Peacock described as an "anomaly"

following the establishment by Aberdeen University, along with Highland Council, of a part-time distance learning course which student teachers take over two years.

There are also part-time courses in other teacher education institutions.

While the numbers involved are small - an estimated 160 out of 6,000 students in teacher training at the moment - they are expected to grow as part of the drive to develop more flexible routes into teaching.

Mr MacIver was at pains to make clear that his working group had been set up because of the success of Gaelic-medium education, not its failure.

There are around 3,000 pupils in the system at present.

Both he and Mr Peacock stressed the importance of attracting more teachers to meet growing demand as a matter of urgency. A recruitment officer - not yet dubbed a "Gaelic tsar" - is to be appointed within Bord na Gaidhlig to co-ordinate these efforts.

One of their tasks will be to persuade more Gaelic-speaking teachers to teach through the medium of the language. The most recent figures show that, while 253 teachers say they would be able to teach in Gaelic, only 159 are doing so; the secondary numbers are 112 and 44.

Persuading more Gaelic-speaking teachers to make what is often regarded as a dead-end career move will be one obstacle. The working group suggests that the creation of principal teachers in primaries could provide an opportunity, including specific Gaelic PTs in clusters of primary schools.

The Executive has also accepted the group's recommendation that the scheme, under which probationers are offered pound;6,000 if they waive their right to state a preference for working in a particular part of the country, should be extended to Gaelic-medium education. GTC figures show that 10 primary and 41 secondary teachers took up the "preferred waiver" option this year - not one of whom was a Gaelic teacher.

Among other suggestions in the report is that teacher education should be opened up throughout the Gaelic-speaking areas, particularly through the colleges in Islay, Benbecula, Lochaber and Skye. Sabhal Mor Ostaig was singled out for implied criticism that it was not doing enough.

Mr Peacock said: "I am confident that these measures, coupled with Glasgow's Gaelic-medium secondary and the delivery of secondary subjects by ICT, will ensure that Gaelic-medium education continues to help the language survive and thrive."

Executive officials will now draw up an action plan to develop the recommendations.

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