Gaelic Medium Education (GME) began in primary schools in the 1980s. It has since grown to the extent that there are now (2015-16) over 3000 pupils in GME in Scotland’s primary schools, with 60 GME departments or dedicated schools throughout Scotland across 14 Local Authorities. The first dedicated Gaelic school was established in Glasgow, Inverness and recently in Ediburgh. A dedicated Gaelic primary school was opened in Glasgow in 2016, and a further two Gaelic schools will open in Fort William and Portree over the next few years.
As can be seen, GME provision is not confined to the northwest Highlands and Islands and is available at various levels in cities and towns in central and eastern Scotland. Gaelic-medium Education is a national education system which adheres to national standards and Curriculum for Excellence. One of the main aims of Bòrd na Gàidhlig in the National Gaelic Language Plan is that the number of children enrolling in GME is doubled to 800 by 2017 and that the GME system continues to be developed to support this increase.
Immersion and Gaelic Medium Education
Pupils are usually taught entirely through Gaelic during their first three years in primary school. This total immersion is very important, and it means that your child does not have to be fluent in Gaelic when they begin Gaelic-medium Education in primary school. The immersion also greatly enhances the language skills of children who are already fluent in Gaelic. After P3, English is gradually introduced through the medium of Gaelic, but Gaelic remains the predominant language of the classroom in all areas of the curriculum. This ensures that the immersion continues until the end of primary school.
GME aims to address the needs of both fluent Gaelic speakers and pupils who do not have full fluency. The total immersion in the first three years and continued immersion thereafter mean that each pupil who goes through this education system will gain the necessary and appropriate language skills – both in Gaelic and English. Pupils will also receive an excellent education in all other areas of Curriculum for Excellence. Indeed, research shows that when GME pupils reach P7, on average their English language skills tend to be better than those of their mono-lingual counterparts.
In addition to their class-based education, pupils will sometimes have the chance to meet people from the community who have Gaelic in order to encourage children to use the language in different situations. Gaelic schools and departments also tend to forge ties with other Gaelic schools. At the end of seven years in primary education each child will have at least two languages and will have all the benefits associated with that.
Gaelic for Learners in the Primary School (GLPS)
At present nine Local Authorities in Scotland offer GLPS. This scheme allows English medium primary pupils to learn some Gaelic and learn about Gaelic culture and heritage. The initiative is based on the Modern Languages in the Primary School scheme (MLPS) and it gives children the opportunity to learn a little Gaelic if they live in an area where GME is not available. This can be the first step to fluency and to other learning paths.
Information and Support for Parents
There are a number of resources and organisations which offer information and support for parents who have children in GME or who are considering enrolling their children in GME. One of the best online resources is Fiosrachadh do Phàrantan (information for parents), a website with information on Gaelic Medium Education and all the benefits of bilingualism. There is also Gaelic4Parents which is full of resources, games, stories and audio files which can help young children who are learning or use Gaelic. Parents can also access ‘live’ help with homework on the site, which is especially helpful to parents who don’t speak Gaelic.
Comann nam Pàrant is an umbrella organisation representing a network of GME parental groups throughout Scotland and they offer support and advice to any parent who is considering Gaelic Medium Education for their children. They also run a Parental Advisory Scheme with staff in various regions that can advise and inform parents on different aspects GME.