Finding space for Gaelic


How best should Scotland’s capital support Gaelic and Gaelic medium education as part of the education service as a whole? Green councillor Mary Campbell reflects.

There is a lively debate in Edinburgh right now about how Gaelic medium education (GME) should be developed. While there has been a standalone Gaelic Primary School (Taobh na Pàirce) since 2013, Gaelic teaching at secondary level has been hosted, until now, within the much larger James Gillespie’s High School. With a total school capacity of 1,300 and a projected roll of over 1,500 as soon as 2021 (and rising still further beyond) it is clear that James Gillespie’s can’t continue in the same role if GME is to develop.

So, whatever else is considered, a future for GME at secondary level needs to look beyond James Gillespie’s High School.

Why is this important? The Gaelic language has a long and proud history in Scotland and at one time was spoken throughout most of the country. It was the common language in large parts of Scotland for centuries. Edinburgh place names such as Craigentinny, Dalry or Balerno are all from Gaelic and show that the language has deep roots in the capital.

Gaelic Medium Education at primary level has proved incredibly popular in Edinburgh. While the current P7 year group at Taobh na Pàirce comprises 24 children, the P1 group is 77, representing a tripling of the intake within 7 years. Accommodating that level of growth is one of many challenges facing the city’s schools.

That is the backdrop to a recent report, agreed by all parties at the education committee in December 2017, to begin an informal consultation on moving secondary level Gaelic Medium Education from James Gillespie’s High School, to Drummond Community High School, with the “opportunity in the longer term, if demand continues to increase, for the school to operate as a dedicated GME secondary school.”

Part of the case for looking, informally, at Drummond, is that the school is close to the Gaelic primary school which would allow sharing of resources. I understand that case.

However, equally I recognise the issues raised, including by parents from current Drummond feeder primaries and others, about the potential uncertainty these proposals raise for the future of Drummond. The future of our children’s education is an emotive subject, and it’s vital the council gets this right. I and other Green councillors will seek to ensure that these concerns are addressed in any council proposals that come forward.

But education is only partly about the buildings. It is what goes on inside the classroom that matters. As options for the future are fleshed out – and before they go to formal consultation – a clear strategy on a transition is needed, for example, that builds on the existing work to improve recruitment and retention of Gaelic medium teachers in the capital and outlines how Gaelic education will be developed. Equally, how a dual campus would work in practice and give benefit to all pupils. And, how Drummond’s expertise in providing for young people with additional support needs could be retained and enhanced. These are issues wherever Gaelic goes.

Is Gaelic Medium Education a growing part of our education set up in Edinburgh? Undoubtedly. Is a move away from James Gillespie’s necessary? Inevitably. Is Drummond the right destination for that move? It is too early to say. But with a constructive approach looking ahead I believe that it is possible to produce a win-win for development of Gaelic and for young people in all communities.

Mary Campbell is Green councillor for Portobello/Craigmillar and Green spokesperson on education