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The Report of the Gaelic Medium Teachers Action Group


1. Introduction

1.1 Gaelic Medium Education in Scotland

1.1.1 There is now, in Scotland, a significant commitment to Gaelic medium education ( GME). The evidence for this is found in a number of initiatives which are being supported by central government, local authorities and by the main education agencies and bodies. This commitment is linked to the shared aim of creating a sustainable future for Gaelic in Scotland and the recognition that Gaelic medium education has a key part to play in achieving this aim.

1.1.2 Gaelic medium education has been an undoubted success story for the language. This has produced, in Scotland, a distinctive and confident Gaelic medium education sector within Scottish education that now can boast of many fine examples of learning and teaching. Above all, this sector is producing young people, at the end of primary education, who are confident and fluent in two languages. The Executive's provision of Gaelic specific grant has had an important role to play in this.

1.1.3 Gaelic medium classes are fairly recent in Scottish education. For much of the twentieth century Gaelic was only taught as a subject and was hardly ever used as the medium of teaching in schools, even in Gaelic speaking areas. Although important attempts were made to address this in the 1960s and 1970s, not until the 1980s did parental pressure encourage local authorities to establish Gaelic medium classes. The first classes were opened in Inverness and Glasgow and there are now 61 primary schools with Gaelic medium classes and 36 Scottish secondary schools offering Gaelic for fluent speakers.

1.1.4 Gaelic classes for learners, whether at primary or secondary, are also an important aspect of Gaelic development. There has been an encouraging rise in the numbers attending learner classes in the last few years. Numbers have risen from 2370 in 2002-03 to 2513 in 2003-04 and 2583 in 2004-05. Gaelic for learners is also taught in the primary school and is organised in different ways. These classes have an important role to play in terms of increasing interest in the language and culture. In the long term they carry the potential for increasing the number of fluent speakers and possibly the supply of teachers.

1.2 Progress and Development

1.2.1 The Scottish Parliament was established in 1999 and since then there have been a number of important initiatives which have sought to consolidate and expand Gaelic medium education in Scotland. The Standards in Scotland's School etc Act 2000, early in the life of the new Scottish Parliament, contained important Gaelic provisions and signalled that Gaelic was a National Priority for school education in Scotland.

1.2.2 The Standards in Scotland's Schools etc. Act 2000 imposes a duty on authorities to publish an annual statement of improvement objectives. This annual statement must include an account of an authority's Gaelic medium education provision. The Act also gives Ministers the ability to set objectives for the National Priorities for school education, one of which is Gaelic.

1.2.3 Following this lead, several authorities have developed and improved their Gaelic medium education provision and most areas of Gaelic education have benefited. There have been improvements in funding, in materials, in teacher training, in ICT, in support for pupils, teachers and parents and in policy statements from authorities on how Gaelic medium education will be delivered in their areas.

1.2.4 Gaelic education has also benefited from reports and research which have focused on specific aspects of provision. Guidance has also been prepared and issued by the Scottish Executive to inform the development of Gaelic medium education. Whilst positive, however, these signs of vitality have also served to identify key areas which are acting as constraints on the growth of Gaelic education.

1.3 The Teachers' Action Group

1.3.1 One of the areas which requires further attention to allow Gaelic medium education to expand is the recruitment and supply of Gaelic medium teachers. Some areas of the country have experienced significant difficulties in securing teachers and expansion has been held back as a result. In some situations this has disrupted pupils' education with a measure of disappointment for all concerned. This has been a feature of Gaelic primary education, but it has also been keenly felt at secondary, where authorities have been seeking to improve continuity between primary and secondary and extend the range of subjects available in Gaelic.

1.3.2 In recognition of this, the Minister for Education and Young People set up the Teachers' Action Group to look at the recruitment and supply of Gaelic medium teachers and to make recommendations. The Group agreed that its remit should include consideration of: strategies to increase the supply of Gaelic teachers, existing teacher education opportunities, professional preparation for Gaelic teachers and professional support for teachers.

1.3.3 There are important links between the Teachers' Action Group and other recent initiatives such as the establishment of the Gaelic ICT Secondary Implementation Group. The aim of the Gaelic ICT Implementation Group is to explore virtual solutions to delivery in Gaelic medium at secondary level which could offer a way of meeting the increased demand for Gaelic subject teaching in secondary schools. This involves looking at which subjects to focus on, the preparation of course materials and appropriate delivery mechanisms. The work of the Teachers' Action Group also includes important links to recent work by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Education ( HMIE) and the local authority Management Review Group ( MRG).

1.4 Teacher Supply - A Priority

1.4.1 The Group welcomed the recent report on Gaelic education from HMIE and noted that it reflected the very considerable achievements made in taking forward Gaelic education since their previous report in 1994. The Group was also pleased to see the report's strong emphasis on secondary education and the need to develop Gaelic at those stages more vigorously, capitalising on the growth of Gaelic in primary and developments in new technology. The decision by a number of authorities to take forward secondary developments in Gaelic is further evidence of this emphasis. In the recent HMIE report, the areas for improvement included ensuring 'that there are sufficient well qualified Gaelic and Gaelic medium teachers to meet future demands'. The Management Review Group has consistently emphasised the need for practical measures to assist the recruitment and training of Gaelic teachers and Comunn na Gàidhlig have also made an important contribution to this.

1.4.2 A strong focus on the importance of Gaelic education and the need for an increased supply of teachers was also a feature of the Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act 2005 as it progressed through the Scottish Parliament. This was evident in consultation responses, in debate and in evidence given to the Education Committee of the Scottish Parliament. Furthermore, the Education Committee of the Scottish Parliament also reflected these issues again in their report on the 5th February 2005, where they stressed the need for the Scottish Executive to improve the recruitment of Gaelic teachers.

'The Committee welcomes the fact the Scottish Executive stresses to the funding councils that Gaelic is a priority area and that a recruitment campaign for Gaelic medium teachers will be launched during the course of 2005. However, the Committee notes with concern the discrepancy between supply and demand for Gaelic medium teacher training.'

1.4.3 The Education Committee emphasised that this discrepancy should be 'addressed in the national Gaelic education strategy' which is required by the Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act 2005. The Teachers' Action Group welcomed these comments and has endeavoured to respond to these concerns by the measures outlined in this report. The Report contains a number of recommendations at the end of each section and, at the front, a number of key recommendations that the Group has decided are crucial to addressing the current shortage of Gaelic teachers. The Group believes that this report sets out the steps to provide an improved supply of new Gaelic Medium teachers to meet the ever growing demand for Gaelic Medium Education in Scotland.