A Government package designed to wrap the feel-good factor around Gaelic education began to unravel this week as the Scottish Secretary ran into strong criticism over his refusal to accept the extension of Gaelic-medium education to secondary schools.
Parents say they are dismayed, and Michael Forsyth has been accused of making a nonsense of advances in Gaelic-medium primary education.
Mr Forsyth outlined his measures last Friday during a lecture at Stirling University on the Scottish identity. They include a national resource centre to improve teaching materials, new Gaelic-medium courses in aspects of Gaelic culture for secondary pupils, and a 10 per cent rise in the Government's specific grant for Gaelic education which will take the sum to Pounds 2. 1 million from next April.
But the welcome for these moves was overshadowed by despondency over Mr Forsyth's decision to stick by the advice of HM inspectors in their 1994 report that expansion of Gaelic-medium education into secondary schools was "neither feasible nor desirable".
The Secretary of State conceded that this recommendation "met with widespread opposition from the Gaelic community". His alternative of new courses in Gaelic culture for the first four years of secondary school provoked a similar reaction from Comann nam Parant Naiseanta, the national parent body. These courses "will certainly not be an adequate substitute for quality Gaelic-medium tuition in a variety of examinable subjects", John MacLeod, the organisation's chairman, said.
Mr Forsyth's statement made it clear he was swayed by "significant practical difficulties" such as the shortage of materials and teachers. But Farquhar Macintosh, the former chairman of the Scottish Examination Board who chairs the board at Sabhal Mor Ostaig college on Skye, dismissed his response as "regrettable and illogical".
Dr Macintosh, who chairs the Gaelic education action group, added: "I had hoped the Secretary of State would have conceded the principle of extending Gaelic-medium education at the secondary level which could then have been phased in as these problems were overcome."
He said the decision ran counter to developments that had taken place in Gaelic education and which the Secretary of State endorsed. "We have pupils being taught successfully through the medium of Gaelic in primary schools, learning through Gaelic at the further education college in Skye and courses taught through the language at four of the universities. Yet there is still to be this hiatus at the secondary stage.
"It does not make sense, it goes against all international practice and it flies in the face of the Government's 5-14 programme which is based on the principles of continuity and progression."
The Secretary of State insists, however, that he wants to see the growth of the past decade continue. He announced that he would be encouraging education authorities to be "more proactive" in advising parents on Gaelic pre-school provision. Teacher training colleges are to be urged to increase the number of Gaelic speakers on pre-service courses (exceptional postgraduate grants are to be introduced for Gaelic-speaking graduates but only for those on the one-year primary training course).
Mr Forsyth also announced a three-year study into comparative attainment levels in Gaelic, another of the HMIs' recommendations. The study will be headed by Professor Richard Johnstone of Stirling University, and undertaken by the Scottish Council for Research in Education and the Leirsinn research unit at Sabhal Mor Ostaig.