Gaelic dilemma for one in four

Parents in the Western Isles may not be able to send their children to their local primary if they want them to be taught through English.

The authority wants to introduce Gaelic-medium education (GME) in all primary 1 and primary 2 classes but describes this as no more than "an aspiration". If it happens, parents who wanted their children to learn through English would have to send them to area schools. In some cases, a placing request might be necessary.

The authority polled 328 parents of pre-school children throughout the isles to test their intentions and one in four, or 26 per cent, insisted on English as the classroom language.

The Western Isles education committee last week took that as a positive signal and approved a pilot in five primaries to start next August, subject to more consultation. All pupils in the first two years of school will learn through Gaelic at Stoneybridge in South Uist, Breasclete on the west side of Lewis and Paible, Lochmaddy and Carinish in North Uist.

Within seven years, the authority hopes to establish its first all-through Gaelic primary in North Uist after a parents' campaign, emulating the success of Glasgow. But the Western Isles accepts there are more difficulties because of the small numbers of pupils and greater distances involved.

It also concedes that any developments are strictly limited by the acute shortage of Gaelic-speaking teachers. The council has identified another six who can teach through the language but are not at present in GME schools, while another two are willing to switch if they have additional training.

"These numbers, and current location of the teachers, do not allow for any significant expansion at present. The issue of recruitment of Gaelic-speaking staff to vacant posts will need to be actively pursued in order to allow expansion to take place," officials told councillors.

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