Ten island primary schools could be designated as official Gaelic Schools in the near future.
Comhairle nan Eilean Siar are planning to hold community consultations on establishing Gaelic School status at Balivanich, Bernera, Breasclete, Castlebay, Daliburgh, Iochdar, Leverhulme Memorial, Shawbost, Sir E Scott and Sgoil an Taobh Siar primaries.
At this week’s meeting of the Comhairle’s Education and Children’s Services Committee, Bernard Chisholm, Head of Children’s Services said unlike previous proposals on this topic, it had been agreed in partnership with the Scottish Government that designated Gaelic schools would continue to provide English Medium Education as well.
Mr Chisholm said the council’s aim was to ensure that Gaelic became the principal language of instruction within all of its schools but that increasing uptake of Gaelic Medium in certain schools meant they could be considered for this status.
“We are achieving that increase and in Uist and Barra 67 per cent of children are in Gaelic Medium Education, above 50 per cent in Harris. Some individual schools are at 100 per cent.”
He said previous discussions on this subject in communities around the Western Isles had been undermined by parents’ fears about English Medium not being provided and whether that might be a deterrent for people moving into the area.
“We will go to those schools where either the percentage of children in Gaelic Medium is above 50 per cent or almost all the children coming into Primary One are going into Gaelic Medium and we would have a conversation on whether or not they would want that,” he said.
He explained that they had already met with Parent Councils and Headteachers of Balivanich, Breasclete, Leverhulme Memorial and Taobh Siar and they had received reasonably positive responses so far.
He said they would take forward discussions at the ten identified schools first, but at any school where the number of Gaelic Medium enrollments was increasing to over 50 per cent they could seek a conversation with that community.
The plans to hold ‘conversations’ with ten communities was approved by councillors and welcomed by members.
Stornoway Cllr Angus McCormack said it had long been his aspiration for the islands to have Gaelic schools.
He raised the point in an earlier discussion of the Gaelic Action Plan for the Comhairle’s Education department and said it should say in the plan that they wished to establish Gaelic status schools.
Chair of the Committee Cllr Catriona Stewart said: “I think we must remember that this is a Gaelic community.”
She pointed out that there were Gaelic Schools already on the mainland within ‘almost a false community’ and that was not the case in the islands where Gaelic was spoken in communities right through the islands.
Convener Norman A MacDonald added that they must make clear to parents that English Medium would still be an option in a Gaelic Status school.
He said: “I think we should all welcome this report and be aware of the work being done in terms of encouraging Gaelic through the schools.
“We do have to comfort parents that there will be no denying of English Medium education and they have to be aware we are not trying to do away with that.”
The Comhairle has recently received the sum of £500,000 from the Scottish Government to support the development of Gaelic Schools Capital Fund. This will support the establishment of Gaelic Schools and the extension of provision for Gaelic pre-school education.
There are already Gaelic schools across Scotland including one in Glasgow, Edinburgh and several in the Highlands.
The emphasis in the Western Isles has always been to increase Gaelic Medium provision in all schools.