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Last Updated: Thursday, 9 February 2006, 13:24 GMT
Row over Skye Gaelic-only school
Child with Gaelic book
Gaelic has blossomed in the Sleat area in recent years
A row over Gaelic has threatened to split a community in one of the most scenic parts of Skye.

Proposals to make the local primary in Sleat a Gaelic-only school have polarised locals and incomers.

Murdo Macleod, who leads parents supporting it, said it was time for a new approach in an area where the language was once all but banned.

Local councillor Bill Fulton has opposed the move, while Highland Council has launched a consultation.

Opposing the move would deny children the right to become bi-lingual speakers
Murdo Macleod

The plan would mean that all lessons at the primary school would be taught in the language.

Mr Macleod, a college lecturer, said: "People have to remember that their children are Sleat children and opposing the move would be denying them the right to become bilingual speakers."

Children whose parents wanted them taught in English would have to be bussed to another school at Broadford.

Neil Robertson, of Sleat Primary For All, a body established to fight the proposals, said: "It's an exclusion or inclusion argument.

Attracted students

"We fought very hard many years ago to get a community school in Sleat and it's now potentially being taken away from the community."

Sleat, known as the garden of Skye, is an area where the Gaelic language and the local economy have blossomed recently.

The Gaelic college, Sabhal Mor Ostaig, has attracted students from across the country and the wider world.

Andy Anderson, Highland Council's education chairman, said the request for a Gaelic-only school had been made by local parents rather than the council.

Cllr Fulton said: "I can't accept any child being excluded from the local primary, for whatever reason, whether it's language, religion or culture."

The issue is featured in Eorpa on BBC Two Scotland at 1930 GMT on Thursday.

We asked for your views on this issue. The following represents the balance of opinions we received.

Gaelic needs to be available in many more places than a primary school if it is to survive. Those speaking Gaelic as their only language will find it very difficult in the modern world. Bilingual teaching is the only way forward. Gaelic needs to push its way into modern life by being available on computers whenever a user chooses. Gaelic needs to be an option in call centres, websites, bank statements, bills etc. If people have the choice to use it, they will accept and learn it. To teach only Gaelic at a school is misguided, however. As Keith Charters pointed out - schools should be available for anybody to attend regardless of language, religion, colour etc. There should be no barrier to education.
Duncan, Edinburgh

Fair play to the parents! Too many compromises have been made with regards Gaelic, at this time, it makes perfect sense to define the school as Gaelic only. People who oppose this are bracing a fear that is totally unfounded - English would be part of their children's life in any case. The real damage is in seeing [yet again] any Gaelic revival lost.
Cameron Edwards, Wales

Having being educated in a Gaelic Unit I thoroughly agree with the move to a Gaelic only school. Not only am I now bilingual, I find it easier to pick up other languages and I have had many job opportunities I would not otherwise have received. My parents don't speak Gaelic but that never halted my progress. If the option was to offer a bilingual education in French or German I doubt there would be the same extent of opposition. Those that are quick to judge should look into the facts and figures of how well bilingual children fare in exams etc.
Carrie, Newcastle Upon Tyne

How many single language schools should we have? What about the Doric or a pure dead brilliant wee skool in Glesga dedicated to that tongue? For better or worse, English is the foremost world language and it would be a shame to deprive any UK child from mastering it.
Ian Sim, Livingston

Having been involved for some years with Gaelic Medium Education at Mount Cameron Primary in EK, I agree with the school in Sleat becoming Gaelic only but the local Gaelic Community must put in the effort to welcome non-Gaelic pupils and parents and help them to attain a minimum level of Gaelic understanding, with the help of the local authority, or, as in parts of Wales, this will irretrievably divide the community.
Eric Hamilton, East Kilbride

If the education were going to be somehow inferior in Gaelic these parents might have an argument, but since it'll be the same teachers, just a different language, why does it matter? Andy Thomson is right about being bi-lingual giving you an advantage in later life and what parent wouldn't want to do that for their kid?
Rona Macdonald, Glasgow

My cousin went to an all Irish speaking primary school before continuing to an English speaking grammar school and is now off to university in England. I don't believe an all Gaelic speaking primary school will exclude any children. It's the small mindedness of people who don't appreciate that being bi-lingual is a good thing, who will do that.
Bobby, Northern Ireland

Preserving the language is essential. Being bi-lingual is a sign of progress, allows one to have a sense of his/her history and origin, defines an ethnicity and signals to the UK that it is diverse like other countries.
Thomas Larkin Muscatello, New York City

Stupid idea. I'm not saying don't keep Gaelic going, but don't give it more importance than it's due. At the end of the day, it is not a language of any practical use and does not deserve the money that is thrown at it. Far better to teach French or German.
Gregor Smith, Glasgow

I hope the locals of Sleat are successful in their efforts to have a Gaelic only school. It's largely because of the people that are opposing it, i.e. the incomers, that the language has almost become extinct. Anyone that settles in a Gaelic speaking community should be forced to learn the language, as it will help keep the language alive for hundreds of years to come.
William McCarron, Glasgow

It is ironic that in support of the "Gaelic only" school, Mr MacLeod raises the fact that Gaelic was all but banned. Now he wishes to do the same to English. I am all for bilingual schools and nurseries, but this is an exclusionary policy which is disproportionate to the goal of preserving Gaelic. Speak Gaelic to your kids at home if you wish them to be bilingual. My son will have three languages; English from myself, Italian from his father (both in the home) and Icelandic at kindergarten and school.
Rachael, Iceland

This type of action is exactly what is needed, not only in Skye, in Scotland. For at least three centuries the process of Anglicisation has been rampant in Scotland. In the 1800s Gaelic was commonly used as far down as Fife now it is confined to a few small areas. The Scots tongue is also under huge pressure from incomers, the BBC and the political system. Only by adopting measures like the Skye community has, can we preserve our culture.
John McDougall, Edinburgh

There is nothing inherently wrong with an all-Gaelic school in a Gaelic-speaking community but the question is perhaps more fundamental. What are we trying to achieve? Many Gaelic speakers are not Gaels and can therefore have little cultural link to the community. Learning to speak Gaelic doesn't make you a Gael any more than learning to speak Basque makes you a Basque. The real diversity of Gaelic with all its local variations is being lost in a tsunami of "BBC Gaelic". In addition the focus on language has been at the expense of many other aspects of Gaelic culture. For what it's worth my own view is that all primary school age children in Skye and other native Gaelic communities should receive a bilingual education that gives equal weight to both Gaelic and non-Gaelic medium education thus reflecting life in Scotland in 2006 rather than 1706.
Seamus, Skye

People living in Sleat should value the history and culture of the place where they live - part of this is the language. Gaelic is the native language in that area, English is a foreign language. The only people that should feel excluded are those that reject the culture of where they live and wish to impose a foreign culture upon it.
Alex, Wirral

It's about time the Scots stood firm about there native langue. Like the Irish, the Gaelic language was banned during the English occupation in Ireland.
T. McAuliffe, Western Australia

Having to send children on a bus to school is a concern for all parents. My sons need to travel on a school bus for 45 minutes to get to the Glasgow Gaelic School. For Gaelic to survive it is essential to support the wishes of the community for the future plans for Sleat Primary. If you have local support anything is possible. Good luck to Sleat Primary.
Donald Morrison, Glasgow

A Gaelic-only school in Sleat is an excellent idea. Few people have Gaelic as their first language yet it is part of their history. The people who are fighting this decision are most probably, like myself incomers to the area and should not stand in the way of the protection of a piece of history as the Gaelic language is.
Sara Lea Harris, Isle of Skye

Gaelic is a minority language, outside of the Highlands in Scotland no-one is interested in it. It would be much better to have a language teacher at the school delivering Spanish, German etc. at least these have a use in the business and recreational world outside the north of Scotland.
Alex , Troon

Our ancestry is Scottish, from the famous Scots Brigade, that came to fight here till 1782. That knowledge we have passed on and maintained for nearly four centuries. There are about one million people in this country of Scottish roots, we are organised in a foundation "Scots Heritage" and we celebrate that in song, dance and music (I play the pipes, our daughter the Celtic harp). We are proud of that heritage, but feel mostly "European", with respect and understanding for all other races and languages. In this world, we all would like to keep our "own" background and culture, but without excluding others! Don't look inward, but outward and reach out to others; it is not a contradiction.
R. A. van Iterson, Feerwerd (Gr), Netherlands

I am originally from Central Scotland and we were never taught Gaelic at school and I find this very wrong. I fully back a Gaelic only school. Why not? We have every other kind of school in Britain!
Julie Ferguson, London

While not being a fluent Gaelic speaker, I do think that the basis for any nation is the right to its own language. The denial of this right has been one of the most brutal and sinister aspects to English rule in both Scotland and Ireland. The first step to freedom for Scotland must be the reclaiming of its heritage, only then will English rule come to an end.
Edmond Stephen Corcoran, Ireland

The various initiatives been taken to ensure the survival of the language are to be admired. Considering the iniquities that have been inflicted on the Gaelic language in the past it is, I believe, now justifiable to take actions such as this to preserve and further enhance the status of Gaelic. This is particularly so in the face of incomer opposition, many of whom have no real affinity to Gaelic, Gaeldom or and our intrinsic values.
Donald Maciver, Bristol

I think its a great idea to teach solely in Gaelic. To have this opportunity to learn your own language is a precious gift. Excluding children seems a bit extreme, I can't understand why parents would not want their children to be established in two languages. To bus your children away from this is madness - learning in Gaelic is an advantage in life not a restriction.
Rhona, Angus

I notice on the radio all objectors had strong English accents, surely they should adopt the language of their chosen country/area. The kids would be bi-lingual, why would any one object to that. Perhaps they could run night classes for the parents!
A Ramsay, Motherwell

It's crucial that the school be a truly Gaelic-speaking one. English will not be absent from the lives of the children: they'll be surrounded by English-speaking media, and people.
Bill Craw, France

Excluding pupils from a primary school is tantamount to prejudice and totally unacceptable. It is an ignorant way to begin small children's education and this kind of blinkered and divisive thinking will damage the local community for many years to come. I'm afraid that all this comes from a noisy minority who have learned that shouting loudest makes politicians lean their way.
Mikko Takala, Drumnadrochit

I am in favour of Gaidhlig only schools as having been involved in Gaelic Medium education for over 17 years as a teacher, head teacher and parent I believe that it is the most effective way to proceed. Too many compromises have to be made in most situations where a Gaidhlig unit is in a mainstream school thereby reducing its effectiveness. It still manages to bring tensions within schools and communities for a wide range of reasons one side or another of parents, pupils or staff feeling that they are undervalued, short-changed or being favoured. For children to become really fluent in thought and speaking as well as reading and writing Gaidhlig has to come out of the classroom and into the wider school community. Hopefully some will also have the opportunity to use it at home and in the community. However the community as well as parents have a huge role to play in keeping it alive for those young people. No element on its own will keep it alive except for the odd child here and there.
Graham Martindale, Lochboisdale

It is important that we increase the status of Gaelic in Scotland, and the logical way to go about this is through education. In Sleat, most of the local children will be bi-lingual anyway , so it will mainly be the incomers who will not agree with the proposal. I am a native Gaelic speaker and understand the necessity to keep our language alive, and people coming into live in the Gaidhealtachd should respect our bi-lingual needs.
Gerard Wilkie, West Lothian

As a first generation Australian/Scot I can see where the school is coming from. I love Scotland and I also love my country of birth, Australia. I wish I had the opportunity to learn Gaelic. This language needs to be protected for future generations. But the world revolves around English. This problem can be easily solved by having a 50-50 split on the teaching of each subject. For instance, Teach Maths, and Science in English, and the English subject should be both, all other subjects to be taught in Gaelic. This is not rocket science. Stop thinking of yourselves and think of the children and the future you want for them. If they have good grounding in both languages it would a benefit to the Scottish society and the world. To be able to speak and write in your native language and also be able to use English, how wonderful would that be.
Ian, Australia

Why should Gaelic-only schools be opposed when most Scots in English schools don't get the opportunity to even learn Gaelic, effectively in English-only schools?
Billy McLean, Glasgow

It's good to hear a councillor opposing exclusion on the basis of language, religion or culture. It's a pity that in Glasgow the council allows 40% of primary schools to exclude on the grounds of religion and that it forces all council tax payers to fund a religion only 5% of Scots actively support. Schools paid for by everyone are for everyone, not a minority with their own agenda to promote, be it religious or cultural. It must also be recognised that Gaelic is a language that has very little use in the modern world. Who outside small - invariably bi-lingual communities - speaks it? People can learn it if they want. But then they can also learn Latin or Ancient Greek if it's important to them. That doesn't mean schools should teach all lessons in those languages.
Keith Charters, Glasgow

I was brought up bilingually in Britain - French at home, and English at school. I am now fluent in both. There would be no reason for an English-speaking family to fear sending their child to a Gaelic school. More people on this planet are bilingual than monolingual, it is just in Britain that we are afraid of it. Being bilingual has many advantages, not least making learning other languages easier at a later date. And it is always great to have another language to speak in when you don't want others to understand what you are saying!
Andy Thomson, Edinburgh

See what prompted the row

New move to lift Gaelic teaching
29 Nov 05 |  Scotland
Gaelic festival returns to isles
14 Oct 05 |  Scotland
Mixed report on Gaelic language
10 Oct 05 |  Scotland


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