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Welsh-style sabbatical ruled out for Gaelic

Gaelic-medium teachers have been promised better career prospects, new routes into Gaelic-medium teaching and courses to help student teachers develop their language skills.

But while Peter Peacock, Education Minister, has held out the prospect of a raft of incentives, the Scottish Executive has no plans to follow Wales in offering every primary and secondary teacher a three-month career break to learn the "language of heaven".

The Welsh Assembly has said that teachers, including those in further education colleges, should be able to apply by the end of the year. Cardiff has set aside pound;2 million for a pilot scheme, part of its Iaith Pawb strategy to increase the number of Welsh speakers.

While the move to maximise teaching through Welsh has been largely welcomed, some headteachers are uneasy about funding - and how they will provide cover for the sabbaticals.

Mal Davies, head of Willows High in Cardiff, said: "The implications of this are awesome. I am sure this initiative will be popular among my staff, but heads will be left with the nightmare of how to arrange good quality cover for important lessons such as English and maths."

But Mr Davies added: "This is the way forward to making Welsh a more widely spoken language, and I hope it will go some way forward in helping solve the huge shortage of Welsh language teachers we have here in Wales."

Mr Peacock, speaking at the annual A'Chuisle conference for Gaelic-medium teachers in Aviemore last week, on the day the Gaelic Bill was enacted, was setting his sights rather lower.

He anticipated that the forthcoming recommendations from the Gaelic-medium action group would include more part-time and distance learning courses, programmes for teachers to transfer from English to Gaelic teaching and better career progression for Gaelic-medium teachers.

The action group was established earlier this year under the chairmanship of Matthew MacIver, registrar of the General Teaching Council for Scotland.

It is due to report to later this month.

Mr Peacock acknowledged that the success of Gaelic-medium education has brought problems. "We need more teachers. The action group is considering innovative ways to address the problems and ensure that Gaelic-medium teaching is an attractive career option which offers promotion prospects.

Flexible solutions are what is needed to ensure we have sufficient Gaelic teachers to meet the growing demand."

In 2003, 233 primary teachers were able to teach through Gaelic but only 152 were doing so. In secondary schools, 101 teachers were able to teach through Gaelic but just 26 were doing so.

A spokeswoman for the Executive said that there were no specific plans to offer sabbaticals to allow teachers to learn Gaelic. However, it was possible that teachers who already had some fluency would be offered opportunities to improve their skills.

She added that Welsh was compulsory in schools, so most people left school able to read, write and speak Welsh to some degree.

"We are starting from a different point. How long would it take us to get to the stage where we could teach in Gaelic everywhere? In the first instance, we are targeting those who can speak Gaelic, could teach in Gaelic and who are currently choosing not to. We are trying to make Gaelic a more attractive prospect for them.

"In the past it might have been thought that Gaelic didn't have a secure future but now that the Gaelic Bill has got assent, making it the Gaelic Act, that clearly shows the commitment we have to the language of Gaelic, particularly in secondary schools where provision is pretty patchy."

Councillors in Highland, however, have expressed concern that responsibility for Gaelic education and a national strategy for the language has passed to the statutory Bord na Gaidhlig, rather than remaining with ministers, as the council wanted. "There is concern that this is too big a task for the bord," Michael Foxley, the council's vice-convener, said.

Hamish Fraser, who chairs Highland's Gaelic select committee, commented:

"We have great doubts that the bord has the ability to do this, or to oversee Gaelic-medium education. We can't understand why there is a split now in the oversight of English-medium and Gaelic-medium education. Why has the oversight of Gaelic-medium been taken away from local authorities?"

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