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Minister seeks push on Gaelic

Councils will have to define what is a "reasonable demand" for Gaelic-medium education (GME) under tougher powers announced by Peter Peacock, the Education Minister.

Ahead of the Gaelic Language Bill in Parliament, the minister pledged a push on Gaelic to ensure parental demand is met in authorities funded by the Scottish Executive to support the language. At present, 21 authorities are involved in Gaelic teaching.

Speaking in Inverness last week, Mr Peacock said parents and pupils would have their entitlement to GME clearly established. They would have to be told of their rights by their local authority and would have to be consulted when Gaelic classes closed.

Mr Peacock said: "I want councils that receive Executive funding for Gaelic to reassure parents that where there is reasonable demand, Gaelic-medium education will be provided and they must define what constitutes reasonable demand in their areas.

"I expect councils to work with the agency responsible for Gaelic development, Brd na G...idhlig, to deliver individual policies and improve services."

Once the Gaelic Bill is passed next year, responsibility for monitoring developments will transfer to the board, chaired by Duncan Ferguson, headteacher of Plockton High in Wester Ross. It is expected that councils will differ significantly in setting levels of demand that will trigger the establishment of GME classes.

Language campaigners have repeatedly pointed out that the 15-year-old strategy of immersion learning in primaries will never produce the number of learners needed to preserve the language. An acute shortage of specialist teachers is thwarting ambitions (TESS, February 6).

Campaigners argue that in addition to GME, authorities should expand Gaelic teaching through normal classes in primary. Teachers with an interest could be trained in similar ways to those who use French and German with senior classes. Some eight authorities are already developing the initiative, led by Argyll and Bute.

Mr Ferguson said in February that there has always been a twin-track approach. "I still think our main focus is Gaelic-medium education in primary and secondary," he insisted.

Last week, Mr Peacock promised a national advertising campaign to boost the number of GME teachers, which he accepts is the major barrier to expansion.

"We need to do even more because it is the supply of teachers and not what the law says that will make a real difference for GME," he said.

An inter-authority group is investigating ways to recruit more Gaelic teachers.

Highland Council has already launched a revival strategy. Michael Foxley, council vice-convener, said: "We have had enough pious visions. This announcement gives clear actions, some of which are already in process.

"There is no point in advertising for teachers when they don't exist. The best part of this plan is where it designates GME teachers as high priority, with suggested incentives to attract teachers. We need aggressive positive discrimination to redress the negative discrimination that has gone on for years.

"Golden hellos are being offered to GPs, so why not to teachers? We were in a situation where we almost lost a teacher because of the lack of available housing.

"This teacher was not only a key worker in Lochaber, but a key worker on the whole planet. I want this plan pursued aggressively through the system because it is the key to recovery for the Gaelic language," Dr Foxley said.

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