Skip to main content

Two windows on the world

Madainn mhath. Bunsgoil Gh...idhlig Ghlaschu." (Good morning. Glasgow Gaelic Primary School.) The pleasurable jolt by the telephone being answered in an unfamiliar but mellifluous language is a bit like finding dried flowers and gold coins in the pocket of an old jacket.

The Glasgow Gaelic Primary School building presents the same startling combination of strange beauty inside a well-worn exterior.

"It's an old building but it has character and we like it," says headteacher Donalda McComb. "The only problem is that with 128 pupils and 30 in the nursery we have almost reached its capacity, so I suppose we'll have to move if numbers keep on rising."

The local authority school, set up in 1999 by Glasgow City Council with the help of pound;150,000 from the Scottish Executive, takes children from all over the city, at their parents' request. Ms McComb talks about the satisfaction of being headteacher of the only school in the country at which all the pupils are taught in Gaelic.

"We are a non-denominational school and take children from all backgrounds," she says. "Our ethos is about caring for one another."

At Bunsgoil Gh...idhlig Ghlaschu everyone, including the janitor and dinner-lady, speaks Gaelic virtually all the time. Children are even encouraged to speak it during their breaks.

Complete immersion, the most natural way to learn a language, begins in the nursery and continues until Primary 3, by which time all the children can speak and understand Gaelic. At that point the formal study of English begins, but the majority of lessons continue in Gaelic.

Nursery teacher Margaret Campbell says: "If I had to keep my hands behind my back I don't think I could teach. With the wee ones we use repetition, gestures, songs and play. And of course children with some Gaelic to start with help those who haven't any."

An ongoing problem with Gaelic medium education is resources. Schools can obtain some from Storlann, the national resource centre for Gaelic teaching materials, but many have to be created by the teachers themselves, who are kept busy translating English texts into Gaelic.

Some teachers also run evening classes for parents who are keen to keep up with their children.

Ms McComb says: "The fact that the children speak two languages gives them a feeling of pride in themselves. They are encouraged to perform, sing, dance or play an instrument from the start. They tend to be confident, well-behaved kids who are stimulated to work.

"Gaelic permeates the whole life of the school, which means that all our children have two windows on the world."

Glasgow Gaelic Primary School, 44 Ashley Street, Glasgow G3 6DS, tel 0141 353 2321

Log in or register for FREE to continue reading.

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you