Gaelic under threat: critics scathing of agency tasked with language revival

An initiative to promote Gaelic, encouraging speakers to identify themselves with stickers, was launched at last year’s Mòd  in Glasgow

The agency tasked by the Scottish Government to promote and develop Gaelic can no longer be trusted to lead the future revival of the language, it has been claimed.

Two leading advocates for Gaelic revival have called for a post-covid recovery plan for the language, but they say Bòrd na Gàidhlig should not be involved.

Former Highland Council convener Dr Michael Foxley, and the authority’s former director of education, Prof Bruce Robertson, have warned that continuing with the same approach that has been taken for the past 15 years, will result in failure to maintain the Gaelic language.

Michael Foxley, called for a “radical rethink”

In urging “an immediate and radical rethink”, the pair called for the Bòrd’s status to be reviewed by the Scottish Government.

Dr Foxley said the hundreds of thousands spent on publishing Gaelic plans was of little benefit to the language.

The Bòrd received £5.2 million from the Scottish Government last year, but a report from public sector watchdog Audit Scotland was highly critical of the organisation.

Audit Scotland identified ineffective leadership, workforce planning and a lack of transparency within the organisation.

Earlier this year a committee of MSPs said people in the Gaelic community ought to feel let down by the Bòrd’s failings.

Dr Foxley, who campaigned successfully for over 30 years to develop Gaelic-medium education at all levels, said Bòrd na Gàidhlig had failed to rise to the challenges presented by Covid-19.

Dr Foxley said: “The Bòrd published a response to the coronavirus crisis on 22nd May, which was quite frankly, a missed opportunity.

“They should have set out a clear agenda and action plan for taking the language forward, at a time when the lack of public spending will be a major challenge.

“Instead the Bòrd published a list of issues with no insight as to how the Bòrd is going to address them.”

Dr Foxley added that the Bòrd’s stuttering response was frustrating and disappointing.

“What has the Bòrd been doing while millions of people have been furloughed and lost their jobs and schools have been shut?” he said.

“We need a post-covid recovery plan, but it shouldn’t be written by the Bòrd, which has lost the trust and confidence of people throughout Scotland.”

Bruce Robertson, who was previously an interim CEO of the Bòrd, said the independent group should include a range of organisations.

Prof Bruce Robertson said: “Education must be at the centre of the recovery plan.

“Everyone with responsibility for education must be involved, including Sabhal Mòr the Gaelic College in Skye, universities, local authorities, various national and local agencies as well as teachers.

“With the right leadership and support, Gaelic could come out of this crisis stronger.”

Dr Foxley also called on the Scottish Government to reconsider the status of the Bòrd.

He added: “We feel that the Bòrd doesn’t have the skillset to lead Gaelic out of the current coronavirus crisis. The Bòrd is continuing to fail, as demonstrated by the recent, very critical Audit Scotland report into its operations.

“It is questionable how much value the Bòrd is adding to Gaelic in modern Scotland”.

He also called for part of the Bòrd’s budget to be re-allocated to the Recovery Plan.

He said: “Hundreds of thousands of pounds are spent on the bureaucracy of Gaelic plans from public agencies and it’s difficult at times to see what good this is doing.

“Let’s suspend this immediately and re-direct the funding to the recovery plan where the money spent will have tangible, obvious results.”

Dr Foxley added: “Gaelic must not be marginalised as we come out of the crisis and we are calling for an independent group of experts to be set up with a clear remit and tight deadlines.

“Included in this should be consideration of the role and status of the Bòrd.”

Prof Bruce Robertson added: “The impact of Covid-19 on schools has been catastrophic and indications are that there will be limited time in school for students for many months.

“There is potential for Gaelic to be marginalised in many schools and education authorities and this must be avoided.

“The Stornoway-based E-sgoil, which teaches a range of subjects online is an excellent example of real-time online learning that must be promoted.

“This has led to a lot of young people trying Gaelic for the first time.

“This could also be used to support parents of Gaelic-medium pupils, many of whom have no Gaelic themselves.

“Parents and pupils can be supported directly in their own homes.

“Local initiatives such as ‘Air an Oir’ in Mallaig can also help ensure continuity of education across the country.”