WITH the benefit of hindsight, fears commonly expressed in the 1980s that Gaelic-medium classes would ill serve pupils' wider educational interests were bound to be misconceived. The research report (page five) finds that progress in English and other subjects is unaffected by time spent on Gaelic, and indeed Gaelic pupils frequently do better than others.
The conclusion is unsurprising for two reasons, one educational, the other social. Educationally, the challenge of learning skills in two languages is likely to be beneficial. For example, the structure of English makes more sense when it is set alongside that of another language. It takes on a relevance otherwise difficult to instil in a primary pupil's mind. Perhaps, too, there is confirmation of other research suggesting that pupils respond to being challenged. Those following specialist courses in music and dance also do well in their range of academic subjects.
Families of Gaelic-medium pupils are committed to and often deeply involved in school activities. Many are middle-class professionals, as the research shows. Therefore comparison of pupil performances must take account of that social factor.
All teachers accept that parental interest is crucial to pupil progress, especially in primary. Parents who have chosen a distinctive form of education want the validity of their choice demonstrated. Rudolf Steiner schools benefit from such individualism and commitment. So do Gaelic-medium classes, and the new report should encourage the Executive in its backing for the next development, schools dedicated to the language.