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Gaelic medium education in Scotland


Gaelic medium education in Scotland

Sgoil Ghàidhlig Ghlaschu, or Glasgow Gaelic School, is the largest provider of Gaelic medium education in Scotland in terms of pupils

Gaelic medium education (G.M.E. or GME; Scottish Gaelic: Foghlam tro Mheadhan na Gàidhlig) is a form of education in Scotland that allows pupils to be taught primarily through the medium of Scottish Gaelic, with English being taught as the secondary language.

Gaelic medium education is increasingly popular throughout Scotland, and the number of pupils who are in Gaelic medium education has risen from 24 in 1985 (its first year)[1] to 2,953 in 2013.[2] The current figure is the highest number of Gaelic Medium Education pupils in Scotland since the 2005 passage of the Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act by the Scottish Parliament.

As there are still relatively few Gaelic schools, Gaelic medium education is mainly provided by Gaelic medium units within English-speaking schools. Bunsgoil Shlèite, on the Isle of Skye, is the exception in that it is a Gaelic school with an English Medium Unit. The largest Gaelic school is Sgoil Ghàidhlig Ghlaschu[3] (Glasgow Gaelic School), which caters for pupils aged three to eighteen. It is the country's first 3-18 Gaelic Medium school.[4] At the beginning of the 2012-13 year the school enrolled 605 pupils.[5]

In January 2008, Highland councillors were presented with a report stating that demand for Gaelic medium education was so strong that four new Gaelic schools, in addition to the one in Inverness, were required.[6] Plans were in place by mid-2009 to open a Gaelic medium school in Fort William,[7] while the first standalone primary schools in Skye and Edinburgh in modern times were opened in mid-2013.[8] In August of the same year, the Scottish Government launched long-term plans to have Gaelic taught in every primary school in Scotland.[9]


  • History 1
    • 17th century 1.1
    • 18th century 1.2
    • 19th century 1.3
  • Current provision 2
  • Gaelic medium units 3
  • Figures 4
  • See also 5
  • Notes 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8


Bun-Sgoil Bharabhais is an example of a Primary School containing a Gaelic Medium Unit

17th century

The attitudes towards education and the promotion of Anglicisation have been described as resulting from "confrontation of two disparate societies...Lowland Scotland made plain its anxiety concerning the unreformed society in the north in terms of unease concerning is language, which was identified as the chief cause of barbarity, ignorance and popery"[10] and can be seen as a continuation of such policies going back to 1609 and the Statutes of Iona which saw the Gaelic speaking nobility of Scotland forced to send their children to be educated in English speaking Lowland Scotland; an act which has been described as "the first of a succession of measures taken by the Scottish government specifically aimed at the extirpation of the Gaelic language, the destruction of its traditional culture and the suppression of its bearers."[11] This was followed in 1616 by an act of the privy council which included a requirement that the children of the Highland nobility must be capable of speaking, reading and writing English if they were to be recognised as heirs.[12]

18th century

The history of Gaelic language schools (in the modern sense) in Scotland can be traced back to the early 18th century and the schools of the Scottish Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge or SSPCK. Ironically, one of the primary aims of the society was the de-Gaelicisation of the Highlands and initially its schools taught exclusively through the medium of the English language with the equivalent use of Gaelic prohibited.[13] However the insistence on teaching children in a language which was (in almost all cases) entirely foreign to them resulted in very little progress with regards to establishing literacy in the English language. This situation persisted until the collapse of the Jacobite cause in 1746 with the Battle of Culloden and the consequent collapse of the Gaelic speaking political structures and the pacification of the Highlands by the British Army in the ensuing decades. The change in political atmosphere following the Disarming Act, as well as campaigning by the likes of Samuel Johnson - who was aghast at the fact the SSPCK was actively preventing the publication of the Bible into Scottish Gaelic — led to the change in attitudes within the Society. Johnson had to say of the matter:

"...there remains only their language and their poverty. Their language is attacked on every side. Schools are erected in which English only is taught and there were lately some who thought it reasonable to refuse them a version of the Holy Scriptures, that they might have no monument to their mother tongue."[14]

Johnson, despite being commonly viewed as both anti-Scottish and anti-Gaelic, was actively involved in campaigning for the production of Gaelic literature and proposed the creation of a Gaelic press in the Isle of Skye.[15] The change in attitudes resulted in the production, by the SSPCK, of a Gaelic version of the New Testament in 1767 with the Old Testament being translated and published in 1801. 1767 also saw the SSPCK switch from English to Gaelic as the language of instruction in their Highland schools.[15] A school in Inverness, Raining School, was also established to provide training for Gaelic speaking teachers.[16]

19th century

The 19th century saw the establishment of the first Gaelic school society — the Edinburgh Society for the Support of Gaelic Schools - in 1811.[17] The society stated its purpose thus:

"(the) sole object being to teach the inhabitants of the Highlands and Islands to read the Sacred Scriptures in their native maintain Circulating Schools in which the Gaelic language only shall be taught."

The new society attracted much support with similar organisations being founded in Glasgow and Inverness. The early success of the Edinburgh society was such that by 1828 it funded 85 schools in the Highlands and Islands with its sister societies enjoying similar levels of success. However following the early period of success the groups encountered financial difficulties due to poor administration and started to decline around 1830 and by 1850 only the original Edinburgh society remained although this branch, with strong support from the Edinburgh Ladies Association, continued until 1892. This was despite the introduction of the Education (Scotland) Act 1872 which effectively put an end to non-English medium education and led to the discouragement of Gaelic with pupils being punished by teachers for speaking the language. The effect of the education act upon the Gaelic language has been described as "disastrous"[18] and the continuation of a general policy (by both Scottish, and post 1707, British) which aimed at Anglicisation.[18]

Pressure upon the Scottish Education Department in the years immediately following the act of 1872 saw the gradual reintroduction of certain measures providing for the use of Gaelic in schools.[19] This pressure led to the undertaking by the department of a survey in 1876 which revealed a "distinct majority" of school boards within the Highlands in favour of the inclusion of Gaelic within the curriculum although it also revealed that some of those in Gaelic-speaking areas were against this. However the continuing reluctance of school boards to take full advantages of the limited provisions made for Gaelic within the school curriculum as well as the problems of financing the Education Act generally saw little use of the limited provisions for Gaelic within the schools.[20] The severe financial difficulties suffered by Highland schools at this time saw the introduction of the "Highland Minute" in 1887 which aimed at aiding designated boards financially while also recognising Gaelic as a specific subject in the higher classes of both elementary and secondary schools. Grants to aid the supply of Gaelic speaking teachers were also introduced.

Despite these small measures towards the reintroduction of Gaelic into the classroom the manner in which the language was taught is thought to have contributed to its decline with the language being taught not as the native tongue of the pupils, via the medium of the language itself, but as an academic subject to be studied only through the English language with ever decreasing numbers of students studying the language.

Current provision

A number of councils throughout Scotland offer Gaelic Medium Education. Sometimes this is in the form of schools which only offer teaching in Gaelic, but often occurs in the form of Gaelic language units within schools that also teach subjects in English. Gaelic medium education is available in most of Scotland's major cities including Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Inverness.

Gaelic medium units

Gaelic medium units are specialized units within schools which are not primarily Gaelic speaking or which did not originally provide Gaelic medium education.


In 2013, approximately 10,000 pupils in Scotland were receiving some kind of education in Gaelic representing 1.5% of the country's student population. This figure is higher than Scotland's overall rate of Gaelic-speakers which stood at 1.1% in 2011.

Nearly 3,000 students in Scotland were enrolled in Gaelic Medium Education in 2013.[2]
Number of Pupils As a percentage of all
pupils in Scotland
at that level
Secondary pupils 684 0.24%
Primary pupils 2,269 0.60%
ALL PUPILS 2,953 0.44%

Five council areas had a higher than average enrollment of students in Gaelic Medium Education: Eilean Siar (25.54%); Highland (3.28%); Argyll & Bute (1.44%); Glasgow City (0.70%); and North Lanarckshire (0.45%). All Gaelic Medium Education students in Argyll & Bute are at the primary level only.

Another 7,000 pupils in Scotland were receiving instruction in Gaelic language courses in 2013.[2]
Number of Pupils As a percentage of all
pupils in Scotland
at that level
Gaelic the only subject
taught through Gaelic
Secondary pupils 546 0.19%
Gaelic learner classes Secondary pupils 3,064 1.06%
Primary pupils 3,389 0.90%
ALL PUPILS 6,453 0.96%
TOTAL 6,999 1.05%

In Eilean Siar, 91.15% of all pupils were receiving some form of Gaelic-language education in 2013. In second place was the Highland council area at 10.20%, with Argyll & Bute in third at 7.97%. On the reverse side, fourteen council areas had no students at all receiving any education in Gaelic.

See also

  • Clì Gàidhlig - Organization supporting learners of the Gaelic language.


  1. ^ "Scotland's Languages: Gaelic". Education Scotland. Retrieved 23 June 2014. 
  2. ^ a b c Scottish Government: Pupils Census, Supplementary Data, 2013; updated February 2014
  3. ^ Gaelic Education
  4. ^ O'Connor, Ronnie. "Follow Through Inspection Report: Glasgow Gaelic Primary School". Glasgow City Council. Glasgow City Council. Retrieved 23 June 2014. 
  5. ^ "Sgoil Ghàidhlig Ghlaschu - Glasgow City". Education Scotland. Retrieved 23 June 2014. 
  6. ^ Call for all Gaelic schools The Scotsman, accessed August 9th, 2009
  7. ^ Gaelic Medium Education, Retrieved 9 August 2009.
  8. ^ Gaelic Revival from Portree to Leith Bella Caledonia, Retrieved 30 June 2013
  9. ^ Plan to Teach Gaelic in Every Scots Primary School The Scotsman, Retrieved 2 August 2013
  10. ^ MacKinnon, Kenneth Gaelic: A Past and Future Prospect (pp56)
  11. ^ MacKinnon, Kenneth Gaelic: A Past and Future Prospect (pp46)
  12. ^ Hutchison, Roger Gealach an Fhàis: Ùr Beothachadh na Gàidhlig (pp50)
  13. ^ MacKinnon, Kenneth Gaelic: A Past and Future Prospect (pp54)
  14. ^ MacKinnon, Kenneth Gaelic: A Past and Future Prospect (pp55)
  15. ^ a b MacKinnon, Kenneth Gaelic: A Past and Future Prospect (pp56)
  16. ^ Hutchison, Roger Gealach an Fhàis: Ùr Beothachadh na Gàidhlig (pp51)
  17. ^ Thomson, Derick S. The Companion to Gaelic Scotland (pp258)
  18. ^ a b The Edinburgh history of the Scots language, Charles Jones. Retrieved from Google Books on 22 November 2011.
  19. ^ Thomson, Derick S. The Companion to Gaelic Scotland (pp259)
  20. ^ Thomson, Derick S. The Companion to Gaelic Scotland (pp260)


  • Thomson, Derick S. The Companion to Gaelic Scotland, (Blackwell Reference 1987), ISBN 0-631-15578-3
  • MacKinnon, Kenneth Gaelic: A Past and Future Prospect (Saltire Society 1991), ISBN 978-0-85411-047-6
  • Hutchison, Roger Gealach an Fhàis: Ùr Beothachadh na Gàidhlig (Mainstream Publishing 2005), ISBN 978-1-84018-999-5
  • Jones, Charles The Edinburgh History of the Scots Language (Edinburgh University Press), ISBN 0-7486-0754-4

External links

  • - Information on Gaelic teaching for teachers, students and pupils.
  • Gaelic pupils numbers - Information on numbers of gaelic pupils per school
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