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Isles politicians unhappy over Gaelic ‘entitlement’

SCOTTISH Government plans to introduce a nationwide “entitlement” to Gaelic education have been met with a frosty reception from Shetland Islands Council and MSP Tavish Scott.

Last week Holyrood’s education committee debated the latest amendments to the Education Scotland Bill, including one which Scott says may force the SIC and its schools to prioritise spending to ensure there are teachers and other resources available to provide Gaelic education in the isles.

Education committee chairwoman Vaila Wishart backed Scott, saying that “while moves to promote Gaelic are laudable, to impose it on areas which have no tradition in the language seems highly insensitive – especially at a time when resources are so stretched”.

Wishart added: “I raised the problem at [local government umbrella body] Cosla education committee meetings, but I fear it fell on deaf ears.”

However a Scottish Government spokesman said Gaelic education would not be “expected, or imposed, on any area without good evidence of parental demand”.

Local authorities with no Gaelic medium provision “have been asked only to publicise the right of parents to request Gaelic medium primary education”.

But Scott said education priorities should be based on local needs rather than a one-size-fits-all prescription.

“Previously, the Scottish Government proposed to introduce a clear and consistent process for assessing request by parents for Gaelic medium education,” the MSP said.

“That was a reasonable position and one that would have helped safeguard and promote the use of Gaelic in areas where demand is high.

“Unfortunately, the SNP have now decided to go further and create a presumption in favour of requests for Gaelic education in any area across the country.”

He said it was “difficult to see why this issue should be given priority” over other demands on council spending in Shetland where there was no tradition of Gaelic.

“Politics is about priorities and the notion that teaching Gaelic might be considered a priority in Shetland schools will leave many people scratching their head.

“It is out of step with the distinctive linguistic, historic and cultural heritage of Shetland and shows, once again, that Scottish ministers are happy to ride roughshod over local decision-making.”

Scott has also criticised the SNP’s wider education policy, saying the government had “railroaded fixed teacher numbers, Gaelic education, class size ratios and a head teacher qualification through parliament”.

SIC education official Audrey Edwards told the Holyrood committee in November that the head teacher qualification was ill-suited to Shetland’s smaller schools and would deter prospective head teachers from applying for posts in the islands.

“Why does our government continue to impose policies on our schools that will make education worse in Shetland?” Scott said.

He added that local schools were “already facing difficulties” in recruitment, with a year taken to recruit a head teacher for Fair Isle’s primary school.