Coronavirus (COVID-19): Gaelic medium education

Advice for local authorities and schools on Gaelic medium issues to incorporate into their education recovery planning.


Gaelic medium education (GME) serves an important function in strengthening an endangered language of Scotland.

The period of learning at home has been challenging for a substantial number of young people in GME whose parents do not speak Gaelic.  As a result, they have not benefitted from learning in Gaelic while learning at home, as would be the case when educated in school. 

Since schools closed in March 2020, young people’s use of Gaelic has substantially reduced. Gaelic is the language required to deliver the curriculum. This makes recovery for young people in GME different to English medium.  Almost all parents in English medium have been able to deliver learning at home in the same language as that used by the school. This connects the recovery of GME with Scottish Government’s priority for equity, equality and excellence for all of Scotland’s learners.

This advice note clearly identifies young people in Gaelic medium education as a priority group for whom recovery and transition arrangements need to be an identified priority for local authorities.

Gaelic education in Scotland

The aim of GME is for young people to be able to operate confidently and fluently in two languages as they progress from early years, through primary education and into secondary education. GME is delivered to children and young people who come from families where Gaelic is spoken as well as those from families with little or no background in Gaelic. 

Gaelic early learning and childcare is an important initial stage of Gaelic medium education.  Its importance is that it encourages language learning from an early age and puts young children on a path towards Gaelic fluency.   Gaelic medium primary education is currently available in a number of education authority areas across Scotland.   There are also a growing number of Gaelic medium schools in Scotland and dual stream (Gaelic and English) primary schools where GME is in the majority.  

Where GME is available at primary level, it is considered essential that children and young people are given the opportunity to continue their language skills into secondary education.   Gaelic medium secondary education is available in a number of secondary schools in Scotland.  In these schools, Gaelic is typically offered as a subject, with some schools delivering a further proportion of the curriculum through the medium of Gaelic both at broad general education and SQA qualifications in senior phase through the medium of Gaelic.  Gaelic learner education  is distinct from GME in that it is delivered to those who are in English medium education as an additional language and as part of the modern languages curriculum.

The GME curriculum from S1 to S3 and into the Senior Phase (S4-S6) remains one based on the principle of immersion.  It is considered essential that education authorities and schools identify and plan for, the curricular areas and subjects, in addition to Gaelic, that are possible to deliver through the medium of Gaelic, based on the availability of staff and young people’s choices relating to learning pathways. 

The aim of GME should be to offer young people a progressive 0-18 learning experience.  It is therefore considered essential that education authorities are planning for continuity in learning, with particular attention to key transition points such as moving from ELC settings to P1, between P7 and S1 and from the Broad General Education Phase into the Senior Phase. 

Education authorities and other relevant public authorities have a responsibility to provide effective career-long professional learning which is specific to the linguistic and professional needs of staff involved in the provision of both GME and GLE.  Educational agencies and public bodies in Scotland also have a vital role to play in supporting and developing Gaelic education in Scotland.  Along with these bodies, Stòrlann Nàiseanta na Gàidhlig supports pupils, teachers and parents through its role in providing resources for Gaelic education.

GME and the recovery programme

GME is a distinct sector within Scottish education and as such it has its own needs and characteristics and at times like this needs separate consideration.   The nature of GME is clearly described in statutory guidance on Gaelic education.  The steps below have been identified as particular issues where authorities and schools will want to have regard to in relation to the needs of young people in GME and for local authorities and schools to incorporate into their strategic planning for recovery.    

As schools and colleges re-open local authorities, working in partnership with parents and learners, will want to consider the needs and integrity of GME classes separately.  It will be important to ensure that planning arrangements are in place which allow Gaelic classes to commence and Gaelic immersion continues within the school.

In the proposed Local Phasing Delivery Plans that are being drawn up by local authorities, GME, where it exists, should be included as a priority for inclusion in these plans.  It will be important to consider how GME classes will be managed and supported and this should be set out in these Plans.

Where a blended learning programme may apply it will be important to positively promote the benefits of immersion education, and local authorities and schools will want to consider any deficit in language acquisition as a result of the absence of a Gaelic immersion setting and take steps to address this.  There will be some ground to make up and some thought should be given to additional language support.

Local authorities must continue to promote and support GME in line with the legislation in the 2016 Act and in the Statutory Guidance for Gaelic Education.  Local authorities must also ensure that all GME placing requests are respected, that the implications of larger GME catchment issues are taken into account and parental requests for GME are considered and assessed in line with the 2016 Act and Statutory Guidance.

In any in-school arrangements involving social distancing, local authorities will want to ensure the that GME learning should not be compromised in these arrangements and that GME is taken account of at key transitions stages.

Scottish Government and Education Scotland should ensure schools are aware of the GME online materials that are in place to support GME learning and that these are promoted to local authorities and teachers.

In any steps to supplement the existing workforce, as has been suggested in the Strategic Framework, local authorities will  ensure that GME staff and GME ELC staff capacity is included in this appeal.  GME external support could also be considered such as Spòrs Gàidhlig and Fèisgoil

Gaelic medium provision, on-line support for learning

The recent provision of support for teachers, young people and parents in the Gaelic medium sector has been good and although it was largely in place at an early stage following school closure, it is still being added to. The main examples are listed below.

Storlann Nàiseanta na Gàidhlig is the principal body which supports teachers, parents and young people in Gaelic medium education. 

See: for support for Gaelic learning at all school levels, for parents, teachers and young people. Storlann also has a dedicated site for Gaelic learning in early years  and has recently extended its site to support parents.

Education Scotland has included support for Gaelic medium education in Scotland Learns and also has another wakelet site which functions as a GME hub pulling together resources from different sources and at different levels.  

e-Sgoil has been putting in place good support for GME at both primary and secondary levels.  E-Sgoil support includes the delivery of timetabled Gaelic/Gaidhlig classes by e-Sgoil teachers, setting up Gaelic listening and talking sessions for primary and secondary pupils, L3 introduction to Gaelic lessons for pupils currently not able to access Gaelic, a range of GME secondary subjects and more. CnES also has a multi-media unit containing a wide range of resources at all levels to support teachers, parents and young people.

Bòrd na Gàidhlig has also been working with a range of Gaelic organisations that work with young people and looking at what resources and activities are suitable for after school and home activities either with parents or for young people by themselves.  These activities have been set out in a new on line facility  ‘Cleachd i aig an taigh’ (Using Gaelic in the home) with the aim of supporting Gaelic usage at home.  In this Bòrd na Gàidhlig has been working with groups such as Fèisean nan Gàidheal, Comunn na Gàidhlig, Comann nam Pàrant, and Comhairle nan Leabhraichean who all have strong experience of working with young people in various settings. FnG will also be providing Gaelic medium music tuition online. 

MG/BBC ALBA has put together a package to support pupils in Gaelic education at all stages.  This includes both scheduled programmes on CBeebies ALBA, CBBC ALBA and BBC ALBA, and programmes on-line on iPlayer and in You Tube.  These are available for young people ages 3 to 7 up to senior phase and covering a number of subject areas. 

MG ALBA has been working on an ambitious list of content which will be appearing within BBC ALBA’s You Tube channel for children.  This content will support children’s language skills and complement other more formal resources.  This content will be published in a phased approach and will be branded as Cbeebies and CBBC ALBA. A range of short presenter-led clips – durations from 1 to 3.5 mins - on numbers, sounds, letters, shapes, crafts, challenges, characters and unusual news stories will be available on BBC ALBA You Tube for kids. 

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