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Gaelic logs on to the net to fill secondary posts

Highland is planning an innovative training scheme that will use the internet and video-conferencing to train Gaelic-medium teachers in secondary schools.

The council believes this approach could be used throughout Scotland to tackle the shortage of teachers in the growing Gaelic-medium field. It follows Highland's successful introduction of a distance learning scheme for Gaelic primary teachers which started in August last year.

Bruce Robertson, the council's director of education, said the primary course had five students who would otherwise not have trained. But Mr Robertson cautioned: "This is still not enough."

He said: "We have had 25 requests from areas throughout the Highlands who want Gaelic-med-ium primary units, where we could not grant the request through lack of teachers. Hopefully, we are beginning to address the problem.

"The primary Gaelic-medium units we have are a success, but the severe lack of Gaelic-medium secondary subject teachers means that once the pupils leave primary school we cannot offer them anything like a full curriculum.

We are looking at using new technology and new teacher training routes to try to enhance the curriculum that we can offer."

Highland hopes to link with Learning and Teaching Scotland and Sabhal Mor Ostaig to have a range of web-based courses or courses based on video-conferencing. "We need to be innovative with this and it will need investment but the signs are that the Executive are being very positive," Mr Robertson said.

"We would hope to have the first courses on stream in 2005-06 because they need considerable development and funding as well as dedicated time by teachers and lecturers. But this is the only way forward for Gaelic-medium secondary education."

Michael Foxley, the council's vice-convener, said pressure must be maintained on the Executive. "We have had at least 15 years of talking and no real action by successive governments on the problem of lack of teachers."

Dr Foxley insisted that the Gaelic language Bill must be strengthened to include teacher recruitment. "We estimate that we need 30 new teachers a year and, when you take supply cover into account, you would need around 200 over a five-year period to satisfy demand. There is a dire shortage of secondary teachers especially, yet the careers service and further and higher education establishments have highlighted careers in Gaelic teaching."

He feared that local authorities could cite lack of teachers in refusing to grant rights under the Bill and declared: "I would like the Education Minister, Peter Peacock, to start taking his own priorities seriously and to address this as a matter of urgency."

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