Gaelic takes root in Glasgow

18th August 2006 at 01:00
Donalda McComb, headteacher of Scotland's first all-through Gaelic-medium school, is confident that by the time the pupils stream through the doors of the refurbished former Woodside Secondary in Glasgow, everything will be ready.

Four working days before the start of term, however, furniture and teachers' boxes are still being carried in. Debris is lying around, there are workmen in every corridor and lights are being fitted in the gym hall.

It is, Mrs McComb admits, a bit like a television makeover programme, where chaos is turned miraculously into perfection with five minutes to spare.

Monday morning, however, will be a historic day in the annals of the Gaelic language. The new Glasgow Gaelic School will take its first steps towards full provision for pupils aged from three to 18 through the medium of Gaelic.

In its first year, the secondary section of the school will cater for only 22 S1 and 11 S2 pupils. Next year, however, should see that extend to S3.

In a few years, Mrs McComb hopes to be able to offer the full curriculum from S1 to S6.

The pre-five nursery has 28 pupils in the morning and 18 in the afternoon; the primary school a very healthy roll of 222 pupils, with the P1 intake of 48 this year split into two classes.

The school has its origins in the first all-through Gaelic primary which opened in Ashley Street seven years ago. The operation has now transferred with its headteacher, Mrs McComb, to the site of the new 3-18 Gaelic school at the former Woodside Secondary.

The Gaelic primary has consistently scored above the Glasgow and national attainment averages and is in the top socio-economic grouping in Glasgow when it comes to free school meals entitlement measurements. A key factor in its success, however, may be that parents actively choose to send their child and the school has enjoyed huge support.

Mrs McComb, from South Uist, was a bilingual teacher for two years after completing teacher training, then moved to a post in a Gaelic-medium unit in East Dunbartonshire where she worked for 10 years.

She was headteacher of the Gaelic primary for seven years and is preparing herself for the challenge of being a primary-trained head leading an all-through school - something of a first for Glasgow, albeit slightly more common in areas such as the Western Isles where there are junior secondary schools.

The secondary part of the school will have 10 full-time and two part-time teachers, with some doubling up subjects, such as maths and religious education, maths and information technology, and geography and history.

Only two subjects in the S1-S2 curriculum cannot be covered at this stage - modern languages and technical. For these subjects, pupils will be linked to nearby Hillhead High. The secondary teachers will not have a full teaching timetable in this, their first year, but still have a lot of development work to do on courses and translation of materials.

All the teachers recruited to the secondary section have come from "mainstream" schools with a background of Gaelic speaking. None has come from Gaelic-medium units elsewhere in Scotland - allaying fears that the Glasgow school might hit Gaelic provision elsewhere.

The new teachers have had the chance to brush up their Gaelic through weekly tutorials at Stow College. Support has also been available from Sabhal Mor Ostaig on Skye, which runs "streap" courses for secondary teachers who want to develop their subject teaching skills through the medium of Gaelic.

The vast majority of the pupils are coming from within Glasgow itself - only four are transferring to the secondary section from North and South Lanarkshire and East Ayrshire.

"We hope eventually to have a secondary going up to 500 pupils. The building has been refurbished and areas have been left mothballed for future development," Mrs McComb said. "There is no reason why it can't be a two-stream primary."

Jim Whannel, Gaelic adviser for Glasgow City Council, acknowledges that if the school had not received pound;2.75 million in support from the Scottish Executive the venture would have been difficult to finance.

Mr Whannel said: "Gaelic-medium education has been a huge success in Glasgow. We are responding to parental demands. We have record numbers coming in at P1 and each year we surpass the previous year's figure. The primary school is now in a situation where it more than pays for itself in terms of the criteria laid down by the city."

The creation of the 3-18 Gaelic school is not just important for Glasgow, he says - it is also important for Scotland at a time when so much effort is being made to support the renewal of the Gaelic language.

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