Watson under fire over recruitment crisis

THE Minister for Gaelic has promised to look again at the shortage of Gaelic-medium teachers after being verbally roughed up at last week's annual conference of Comunn na Gaidhlig in Nairn.

At one stage Mike Watson was slow handclapped by a minority during an address in which he pledged to establish a new development agency for the language, although ruling out any immediate moves to secure legal status - the major ambition of the Gaelic lobby.

Mr Watson reiterated that training more teachers and beginning to meet demand for Gaelic-medium education was the focus of policy in the wake of the report of the ministerial advisory group, led by Professor Donald Meek of Edinburgh University. The group published its recommendations last month.

Ministers had increased the numbers in training at Strathclyde and Aberdeen universities and would continue to do so based on local authority estimates that 140 primary teachers are needed over the next seven years. Seventeen Gaelic-medium teachers were graduating this summer to meet the 10 per cent shortfall across the country.

But Boyd Robertson, vice-chair of Comunn na Gaidhlig and senior lecturer at Strathclyde University, said that perhaps only 13 were likely to move into Gaelic jobs. Some wanted to work in English. There are 15 places next session but he has yet to fill his allocation.

Farquhar MacIntosh, chair of Sabhal Mor Ostaig, the Gaelic college in Skye, told Mr Watson that 25-30 graduates a year were needed to tackle shortages.

Mr Watson agreed that once units and classes had been established demand for places increased, as in his own constituency in Glasgow. One of the reasons for refusing legal status for the language were the knock-on costs. Money was better spent in the short-term on training teachers and converting others. "I am aware that may be a minority view," Mr Watson said.

Dr MacIntosh called for an early and sustained national recruitment campaign, "continued until supply and demand are in balance". Without it, ministers' commitment to Gaelic was "meaningless".

Mr Watson replied that teachers had still to be persuaded to take up posts, even if they had the qualifications. "The question of incentives has been raised with me. I don't know what that would involve but it has been done in Canada. I think there may be a possibility that may develop," he said.

Professor Kenneth MacKinnon, a member of the ministerial advisory group, stressed that for the language to survive would require a sixfold increase in numbers learning it because up to 1,500 native speakers were dying each year.

The new Gaelic Development Agency (GDA) will co-ordinate and fund activities of various Gaelic organisations. Mr Watson said he had worked hard to convince colleagues to accept a new quango.

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