Gaelic medium works but it costs

5th June 1998 at 01:00
Funding for teaching in Gaelic is disappearing. Neil Munro reports

Gaelic medium teachers need more training and support, a seminar on the issue heard last week. But teacher training representatives warned that funding had virtually dried up and this would hamper attempts to step up recruitment.

Their complaints on funding received short shrift from Brian Wilson, the Education Minister, who spoke at the seminar and aims to use the Gaelic medium experience to extend modern languages in primary schools. Mr Wilson suggested that if teacher education institutions could not cope, other providers might step in, such as Sabhal Mor Ostaig, the Gaelic college on Skye.

The seminar was organised by the General Teaching Council, which is considering what proficiency levels to set for people wanting to take an additional qualification to teach through Gaelic.

Donald John Macleod, Gaelic adviser in Highland, said a great deal is demanded of teachers in what has been a revolutionary rather than an evolutionary development. Mr Wilson pointed out that 55 primaries and 12 secondaries now offer education through the medium of Gaelic, and the number of pupils has risen by 60 per cent in five years.

Mr Macleod said the immersion method used in Gaelic-medium classes had led pupils to "learn science through Gaelic and also Gaelic through science". But teachers often had to develop their own core resources.

Seonaid Gunn, a senior teacher at Carloway primary on Lewis, spoke of a daunting initiation into Gaelic medium work. Teaching through another language was "a whole different ball game". She and other teachers needed help to improve their Gaelic, become more confident with complex spelling and grammar, familiarise themselves with teaching methods and produce materials.

"Teachers feel out on a limb, left in the classroom and told to get on with it," Ms Gunn said. And by the time it reached the classroom little was left of the Scottish Office's grant of more than pound;2 million for Gaelic medium education.

Research by Anne Lorne Gillies, Gaelic lecturer in Jordanhill, reinforced these concerns. Almost all teachers in the 41 primary units who responded to a survey cited their greatest need as "professionally produced classroom resources".

Growing class sizes and a sense of their own linguistic inadequacies were teachers' next most important worries.

Teacher education may not be able to address these needs, Boyd Robertson, senior lecturer in Gaelic at Jordanhill, said. In the three centres which offer Gaelic there are only 37 students on the four-year primary BEd course. In Jordanhill, there is only one in the final year.

Mr Robertson pointed to the major difficulties of funding small teaching groups and putting on additional classes such as language development. And classroom placements in distant locations cost a lot.

Graham White, director of the postgraduate primary course at Jordanhill, said he had to spend pound;2,800 from his pound;31,000 for course expenses last year to supervise four Gaelic students out of a cohort of 70. "This was 10 per cent of my budget and I can't do any more," Mr White said.

The seminar heard from Ian Boyes, chief inspector of schools in the north of Scotland, that despite the difficulties, research commissioned by the Scottish Office shows there is no cause for concern over pupils' attainment in Gaelic medium settings. "Quite the opposite," he said - pupils successfully achieve the goal of reaching a broadly comparable standard in English and Gaelic by the end of primary 7.

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