Councillors urged to reject calls for extra Gaelic teacher in Sleat

Highland Councillors will next week be asked to reject calls to introduce smaller class sizes within Gaelic medium education.

Parents in Sleat on Skye had called for the current class-size policy to be reviewed, after a Gaelic teaching post at Bun-Sgoil Shlèite was axed last term.

But the council’s most senior education official has said the existing policy — which is to have the same teacher/pupil ratios applied to English and Gaelic classes — should be maintained.

Numbers in Sleat are now some four short of what is required to justify the additional teacher. But parents feel that with the school roll set to rise above the threshold the following year, the post should be retained.

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Sleat parents and pupils, unhappy at losing a Gaelic teacher

They had called on Highland Council to review the pupil-to-teacher ratios which determine staff numbers — arguing that Gaelic classes should be lower to help children reach fluency in the language during their infant years.

In his report to go before the Education, Children and Adult Services Committee next Thursday (27th August), the council’s director of care and learning Bill Alexander said: “The council has taken the decision not to have different ratios where there are composite classes for Gaelic medium. Neither do we vary the ratio where there are high numbers of children whose first language is not English. There is no evidence that the class sizes and ratios that we operate compromise pupils’ learning experiences or outcomes in Gaelic education.”

He adds: “If we were to maintain a higher ratio of teachers to pupils at Bun-Sgoil Shlèite, we would inevitably have to consider comparable cases across the Highlands. The likely additional cost across the school estate could make Gaelic medium provision less viable. Also, given the inconsistent availability in the availability of Gaelic medium teachers across the authority, it would be likely to create greater variability between schools.”

Up until 2010 the recommended pupil-to-teacher ratio was lower for Gaelic medium education, but this changed to bring it into line with the guidelines for English-only classes.

Since June, after Sleat parents learned that the school was due to lose a teacher, almost 700 people have signed an online petition calling on the local authority to review their decision.