The successful mix of Gaelic and English could see the creation of a specialist school, David Henderson reports
It is 16 years since one teacher and 10 pupils in one classroom with no resources started a venture into Gaelic medium education at Central Primary in Inverness.
Today, there are 10 teachers, some of whom jobshare, 18 nursery and 118 primary pupils spread throughout the year groups. Gaelic has come a long way.
Central, the second largest GME school after Portree in Skye, is one of 18 primaries to follow the immersion route. Two-thirds of the school conduct lessons in their home language of English and there is no tension between the two, according to Ishbel Gilroy, the Gaelic-speaking head. "It's not a small school within a big school," she insists. "We're one school."
But plans are moving swiftly to establish the council's first specialist school on a different site, probably next to Inverness High. Parents have backed the proposal, approved by the authority, but subject to sufficient funding.
Officials have approached the Scottish Executive for support in ceating a new pound;1.5 million school which would include nursery and after-school provision.
Gena MacLean, acting assistant head in charge of nursery and infant classes, says immersion in Gaelic pays dividends quickly. "About 5 per cent of parents speak Gaelic and some children have no knowledge when they come into nursery. But they are pretty fluent by the end of P2."
Last year's research study from Stirling University showed no learning loss in all-Gaelic classes. At Central "there is no longer any catch-up," Mrs Gilroy says.
English is introduced at P4, later than in other Gaelic-medium schools; by P7, it is a 5050 split. Mrs Gilroy says P4 pupils have reached the same standard in English as their peers.
ButMarion Macdonald, depute head,says: "It needs more than teaching the children to speak Gaelic. It needs the wider community to be involved in keeping the language alive. Otherwise, it's just school-based."
Senior staff want richer media, with more Gaelic radio, TV and children's magazines and more out of school activities to reinforce the school learning.