A new report by a team of academics from the University of Edinburgh has produced the first national map of variation in language use in 3-18 Gaelic-medium education.
The report, launched this week, found disparities between the pre-school, primary and secondary sectors in levels of Gaelic used inside and outside the classroom.
It also reveals that the Gaelic-medium primary sector can be divided into four separate groups in terms of patterns of usage - from schools in which pupils are effectively immersed in the language from P1-7, to those in which Gaelic usage falls off steadily after P2 until it is used for only half the teaching time in P7.
By secondary, there is a sharp fall in Gaelic-medium pupils' exposure to Gaelic in the curriculum. Only 14 schools in 2010-11 were able to provide four subjects (including Gaidhlig for fluent speakers) in Gaelic in S1- 2.
This dip in Gaelic usage is also reflected in activity outside the classroom, the research team of Fiona O'Hanlon, Lindsay Paterson and Wilson McLeod told the Rannsachadh na Gaidhlig conference, or "the biennial scholarly conference on Scottish Gaelic studies", held in Glasgow and funded by Soillse, the national network for Gaelic research, and the Scottish government.
Dr O'Hanlon told TESS that it was impossible to tell from the data whether operating different language models had an effect on pupil attainment. But she added: "Future research may be able to compare the four main language models we found with attainment outcomes to assess `effectiveness'. However, such an endeavour would have to take account of the many other factors that can affect pupils' linguistic attainment, such as home language, intelligence and gender."
Donald MacLeod, Gaelic education support officer in Argyll and Bute, welcomed the findings and said the report had identified areas that required an "intensive focus" in future, such as greater exposure to Gaelic in the broad general education phase and through inter- disciplinary learning in secondaries; post-16 opportunities using ICT; and encouraging non-Gaelic speaking parents to start learning in parent and toddler groups.
Four degrees of difference
Analysis of Gaelic primary schools identified four main categories:
- 30 per cent: Gaelic is the medium of instruction for nearly all teaching time throughout P1-7;
- 30 per cent: Gaelic is the medium of instruction for P1-3 but decreases steadily from P4, reaching about two-thirds of teaching time in P7;
- 20 per cent: Gaelic is used for about four-fifths of teaching time in P1-3, for just above two-thirds of P4, and two thirds by P7;
- 10 per cent: Gaelic is used for nearly all teaching in P1-2, and then falls steadily so that by P6-7, teaching is done half in Gaelic and half in English.