Isles consultation on creating Gaelic schools

A number of schools in the Western Isles which offer Gaelic-medium education are to be the subject of a consultation which could, with parental support, result in them being reclassified as Gaelic schools.

Language campaigners have criticised Comhairle nan Eilean Siar for failing to move towards all-Gaelic schools in the islands — though the comhairle say they are reflecting the mood of parents who wish to retain English pupils within the same school community.

At a meeting of the education committee last week it was agreed to have a “community conversation” to determine support for Gaelic school status in 10 schools. They are: Balivanich, Bernera, Breasclete, Castlebay, Daliburgh, Iochdar, Leverhulme, Sgoil an Taobh Siar, Shawbost and Sir E Scott School.

In each of them the Gaelic pupils outnumber their English counterparts. However, it has been made clear that the council’s intention is for a simple reclassfication which will recognise these schools as Gaelic ones but continuing with English units.

Education chair Catriona Stewart said: “We have already been out to some of the schools to talk to parents, like in the west side of Lewis, and they were happy enough once it was made clear to them that we were looking to continue with an English unit within the schools.”

Mrs Stewart said that while it was possible for Gaelic schools to exist and be successful in the cities, like Inverness, Glasgow and Edinburgh, there was a different dynamic in the rural areas.

“The last time we went out to talk to them about this, the message we got back loud and clear was that they wanted their kids to be educated in the local school,” she said. “We have to take that on board and we have to ensure that there is provision for everybody.”

Mrs Stewart said that the council were committed to strengthening Gaelic throughout the islands and the community conversations on their schools formed part of their commitments under the Gaelic Plan.