Peacock cracks the whip on Gaelic

19th September 2003 at 01:00
The Education Minister has sent one of the strongest signals yet to laggardly local authorities that they could be in breach of legislation under the national priorities to strengthen Gaelic-medium education.

During a visit to BBC Scotland's Gaelic department, Peter Peacock reminded authorities that they have to set out their plans for Gaelic as part of the priorities for education, which are underpinned by the Standards in Scotland's Schools Act 2000.

Mr Peacock said that some progress had been made but he went on to warn: "I will not hesitate to use powers to issue statutory guidance if the further development of education authority improvement plans demonstrates that is needed."

Executive officials have been poring over these plans and some authorities will be summoned to discuss shortcomings.

Mr Peacock reminded councils that the performance measures for Gaelic in the national priorities include the number and percentage of requests for Gaelic-medium education met by each authority. "This highlights the need for authorities to establish thresholds against which they will assess demand for Gaelic-medium education within their area," Mr Peacock added.

He has given the Gaelic development agency Bord Gaidhlig a monitoring role to ensure that plans are put in place and enacted.

Mr Peacock declared: "I want to send the clearest possible signal to education authorities that I take the advancement of Gaelic-medium education very seriously - it is the key to strengthening a fragile language - and Parliament was clear what it wanted through the explicit measures in the 2000 Act."

He added: "These are significant duties placed on education authorities and were designed to recognise Gaelic-medium education and encourage its development."

The moves have been welcomed in the Gaelic heartland, but Mr Peacock has been warned that they could prompt an upsurge in the demand for Gaelic teachers, who are already in short supply.

Michael Foxley, Highland Council's vice-convener, urged Mr Peacock, a former convener, to keep the availability of Gaelic-medium teachers under constant review. "That could hold back development and it could be used by some local authorities as an excuse to do nothing."

Highland has surveyed the demand for Gaelic teachers throughout Scotland and came up with a conservative estimate that 30 new teachers a year would be required. "If the minister's review is effective, the demand could easily be as high as 50 teachers a year," Mr Foxley said.

He added: "We will have to look imaginatively at Gaelic provision, with perhaps units serving a wider area than just the catchment of one school.

That has worked well in Highland."

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