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Gaelic lobby calls on Peacock to deliver

Only three students have applied for the new distance learning course in Gaelic teaching, based at Lews Castle College in Stornoway. None is from the mainland.

Meanwhile, the careers service has been described by Highland Council's vice-convener as "consistently and deliberately useless" in promoting Gaelic.

The revelation about the lack of interest comes as Peter Peacock, Education Minister, today (Friday) addresses the Gaelic lobby in Nairn, where he is being pressed by Highland councillors to break with tradition and offer financial incentives to boost the number of Gaelic teachers.

Highland is already running a Gaelic teaching distance learning course with Aberdeen University but the first intake has only five students hoping to become native language primary teachers.

A second course run through the UHI Millennium Institute, in partnership with Strathclyde University and based at Lews Castle College, will begin in August.

Donnie Macdonald, Highland's head of education, said: "We are looking at helping teachers who speak Gaelic but who do not feel themselves fluent enough to teach through Gaelic at secondary level. We are also examining if the continuing professional development measures under the McCrone reforms could be used to make those with Gaelic as a second language more fluent. A lot of the teachers are required in rural areas and housing is an issue.

"Last year we had 25 requests for Gaelic-medium teachers which we could not deliver."

Mr Macdonald added: "There are good news stories too. One of the first pupils to go into Gaelic medium in Central primary school is now starting a job as a Gaelic teacher with the council. We also need to ensure the careers service makes clear what the opportunities are in Gaelic teaching and Gaelic in general."

Michael Foxley, vice-convener of the council, was even more blunt: "We need to find ways of getting students who leave their home area to return. The problems with housing need to be addressed by the whole council. It amazes me that Gaelic-medium secondary teachers are not regarded as key workers.

We cannot afford to lose these teachers for the sake of providing them with a house.

"We need to look at how careers in Gaelic are promoted in schools. Up till now the careers service has been consistently and deliberately useless in promoting careers in Gaelic. It is now a massive advantage to be able to speak Gaelic."

Dr Foxley added: "There is a great danger that the way we notify the Executive of the number of Gaelic teachers we require greatly underestimates the actual numbers. The system has changed and it is flawed because it picks up on vacancies, not the unmet demand from a lot of areas throughout the Highlands.

"We need to come up with a model that gives accurate figures for the level of demand. I have told the minister and he is aware that the figures he has are just the tip of the iceberg."

Andy Anderson, education chairman, said: "We need to get the head of the careers service along to the education committee and to explain if the Highland area is being sold to people as a good place to work. The issue of incentives to students must also be raised.

"Health boards pay student nurses to undertake degree courses and local authorities pay remote islands allowances or inner London allowances. Why could we not have a contract with students that if they undertake a Gaelic-medium teacher training course and teach in the Highlands, we will help them financially?"

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