THE First Minister was told bluntly in his presence last week that the Scottish Executive's policies on Gaelic education would be "meaningless and without substance" unless it tackled the shortage of Gaelic teachers.
The warning was delivered to Donald Dewar by Farquhar Macintosh, chairman of the board at Sabhal Mor Ostaig, the Gaelic college on Skye, where Mr Dewar was giving the annual lecture. It came amid growing confusion over the Executive's position on whether the language should have "secure status" in law, giving it "equal validity" with English.
Dr Macintosh said the shortage of teachers skilled in Gaelic-
medium work, had become "chronic". Mr Dewar agreed that shortages were "a very important constraint" but did not offer any guarantees of further action.
The critical importance of teacher supply was also highlighted in the report published last Friday from a Gaelic task force set up by the Executive. It pointed out that the 210,000 Gaelic-speakers at the beginning of the last century had declined to 79,307 by 1981 and to 65,978 by 1991.
The report commented: "Crucial to long-term Gaelic survival is a large expansion of Gaelic-
medium education, itself dependent on solving the chronic shortage of Gaelic-medium teachers.
"The scale of the crisis confronting the language is best appreciated when we realise that the current number of about 2,000 children in Gaelic-medium primary and secondary education needs to be increased fivefold to maintain the present population of Gaelic speakers, let alone reverse the decline. The educational deficit is compounded by a shortfall in he Inspectorate, by lack of training and in-service provision and by lack of awareness and promotion of the value of bilingual education."
The report recommends that the Executive more than double its spending on Gaelic language development, including education, to pound;10 million initially (excluding broadcasting which currently receives pound;8.5 million in Government support). It suggests only a "radical remedy" will halt the decline and calls for a powerful new Gaelic development agency which would appoint a head of education and learning.
Although research confirms the educational advantages of Gaelic-medium education and the number of school units has grown from 59 in 1994-95 to 105, there are signs that growth is slowing as teachers cannot be found.
In the current year, the Executive is providing pound;200,000 for courses to increase the supply of Gaelic-speaking secondary teachers, pound;100,000 to staff the national resource centre for Gaelic teaching materials and pound;25,000 for Gaelic secondary courses.
But Dr Macintosh says that existing courses are not geared to those who want to be Gaelic-
medium teachers. The General Teaching Council for Scotland recommended last December that such courses were essential and called for them to break out from locations in Jordanhill and Aberdeen to other centres such as Sabhal Mor Ostaig in the hope of attracting more applicants.
CASH FOR CULTURE ATOM
An extra pound;1 million has been announced for Sabhal Mor Ostaig over four years on top of this year's further education grant of pound;693,600. This is in recognition of the college's wider cultural role.