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Gaelic hour gives the community new life

English was recently binned at the 12-pupil Ardchattan primary, near Connel. Gaelic replaced it.

"For a bit of fun, we managed to talk in Gaelic for half an hour. That is a measure of our progress," Jan Kersel, the class teacher, says.

It is quite an achievement for Mrs Kersel, one of the new breed of primary teachers passing on the language and culture of Gaelic to Argyll and Bute pupils, since she is a Welsh native.

"I'm very proud of my new-found knowledge and who better to show it off to than the children. My own confidence soared because of the very positive feedback from the children and my headteacher," she says.

Mrs Kersel took a 20-hour induction course in Gaelic, devised by the authority, and last summer followed it up with a week's course at Sabhal Mor Ostaig, the Gaelic college in Skye, and a distance learning course.

She has been teaching Gaelic to P1-P7 pupils for an hour a week for three years. Parents are amazed at the progress, she says.

"I was very conscious I wanted to make lessons as proactive and interactive as possible. I used as many resources as were available from lots of visual aids, to sitting-down games to fast and furious games, videos, drama, music and singing - you name it, we tried it. Gaelic was fun," Mrs Kersel says.

She is now branching out into another primary school - employing the proven Argyll method of video conferencing.

Rosemary Ward, a quality improvement officer with the authority and a member of Bord na Gaidhlig, the national agency for Gaelic, said that 700 primary pupils are learning Gaelic because 28 class teachers volunteered for the special course. Similar exercises have been carried out for French and German.

The initiative - Gaelic Learning in the Primary School, or GLPS - adds to the Gaelic-medium education provided in six primaries and four secondaries.

Mrs Ward said: "I think it's wonderful. It gives children for whom Gaelic-medium education is not an option, whether by geography or parental choice, an opportunity to participate in a language learning experience that is their right.

"They are living in Gaelic-speaking communities. We would be remiss if were not putting something back in."

Mrs Ward has found few obstacles so far and says that teachers are happy to step forward and volunteer for the venture. But it is still up to individual schools whether to opt in.

"The last thing we want to do is ram Gaelic down their throats. But I am seeing a real sense of enthusiasm for it," she says.

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