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Gaelic medium education celebrates 25 years with new research

17/11/10

The findings from a new report on attainment in Gaelic medium education (GME), and on reasons why parents choose it, will be presented at a major conference in Edinburgh on Wednesday (17th), celebrating 25 years of GME and looking ahead to further developments.

A summary of the report is available here and the report itself, both in PDF format.

The conference is being organised by Holyrood Magazine and the keynote speakers include Michael Russell MSP, Minister for Education and Lifelong learning in the Scottish Cabinet.

Michael Russell said:

“The Gaelic language is an important part of Scotland's culture and heritage. That's why this Government is absolutely committed to growing the language and doing everything we can to create a new generation of Gaelic speakers.

“Gaelic medium education has a crucial part to play in the development of the language and I am pleased this research has found that pupils in Gaelic medium education do as well or better than their peers.

“I've visited Gaelic Medium schools and units across Scotland and have seen for myself the positive learning environment. Curriculum for Excellence will benefit Gaelic schools, as with all our schools, by bringing learning to life and increasing hands on learning.

“I am heartened by the growth in Gaelic Education in recent years and hope that this trend continues - and certainly this report should give parents reassurance that choosing this path for their children will only benefit their educational journey.”

The conference will debate several issues relating to GME including the Scottish Government and Bòrd na Gàidhlig’s strategy for development; the outcomes of new research on why people choose or do not choose GME and on pupil attainment in GME; updates on funding arrangements, methods and provision and discussion on steps which have to be taken to reverse the decline in the number of Gaelic speakers.

The conference will also mark the publication of the research conducted by Fiona O’ Hanlon, Wilson McLeod and Lindsay Paterson of the University of Edinburgh into why people choose or do not choose Gaelic-medium education for their children, and what its effects are on pupils’ attainment.

To investigate choice, eight primary-secondary school pairs were selected, covering the range of contexts across Scotland in which Gaelic-medium education is provided. Interviews were conducted with the schools’ headteachers and Local Authority Gaelic advisers (22 in total), with 55 parents of pupils in Primary 7 or Secondary 2 Gaelic medium and with 30 parents of pupils in Primary 7 or Secondary 2 English medium.

Pupil attainment was studied mainly using two surveys conducted by Scottish Government statisticians in 2007: the Scottish Survey of Achievement, and the Survey of Gaelic Education, covering some 300 pupils in Gaelic-medium education and over 15,000 pupils in English-medium education. These enabled comparison of the attainment of Gaelic-medium pupils with three groups of English-medium pupils: nationally; in the same schools as Gaelic-medium pupils; and in a group matched to be similar to the Gaelic-medium pupils with regard to gender, socio-economic status and local authority area.

The findings show that pupils undertaking GME perform better than their English-medium peers in English reading and at least as well in science, mathematics and English writing. Thus they acquire or develop an additional language without diminishing their attainment in other areas of the curriculum.

The research also provides an insight into the motivation of parents in choosing GME for their children. Parents believed that learning bilingually provides cognitive stimulation, and additional skills in learning further languages. Some parents also value the Gaelic language as part of their family, community or national heritage.

Arthur Cormack, Cathraiche (Chair) of Bòrd na Gàidhlig said:

“We welcome this report which adds to a growing body of research confirming that Gaelic education is a success for the pupils involved, and for the Gaelic language. This report shows that attainment among Gaelic pupils is at least as good as that of their peers educated in English. Pupils in Gaelic medium education gain an advantage by being educated in two languages, their attainment is excellent, and they gain access to important aspects of Scottish culture.”

“More generally, in my opinion, Gaelic medium education offers an unrivalled model in delivering the new Curriculum for Excellence, incorporating teaching across subjects within the school context, and with many aspects reinforced by the experiences offered to Gaelic medium pupils outwith the classroom environment. These involve Gaelic-speaking people from the community helping in schools, and Gaelic-speaking business people assisting with enterprise projects. Pupils also take part in Gaelic cultural activities on a regular basis, as well as in sporting activities conducted in Gaelic.

Bòrd na Gàidhlig has ambitious growth targets of 15% year-on-year in pupil numbers entering Gaelic medium education. This will require a strong, properly supported early years sector. It will require strong partnerships with local authorities to deliver school education. It also needs parents to be persuaded that a Gaelic education is good for their children, and that support is available for them. There is a growing number of mechanisms in place which should allay any fears parents have of not being able to support their children in Gaelic education and we hope that earlier research, and this latest report, will help in persuading more and more parents to choose a Gaelic education for their child.”

Other keynote speakers at the Conference include Professor Antonella Sorace from Edinburgh University who will speak about the advantages of bilingualism; Joan MacKinnon Director of Education in Comhairle nan Eilean Siar; and Donalda McComb Head Teacher of Sgoil Ghàidhlig Ghlaschu, the Glasgow Gaelic School.

There will be sessions in the afternoon debating key issues in areas such as pre-school provision, primary and secondary education and the tertiary sector, research and teacher recruitment. There will also be a session devoted to debating the findings of the newly published report summarised above.

A spokesperson from Holyrood Magazine said:

“Set against a backdrop of looming budget cuts, declining demand in some local authorities and over subscription in others, and debate over class sizes in Gaelic schools, determining the best way forward for GME is a complex task that requires open discussion with input from everyone involved – policy makers, teachers and headteachers, local authorities, organisations with a remit to support or promote Gaelic and parents interested in GME.”

The Conference, which will be led by John Morrison of McGarvie Morrison Media, begins at 0845 with Registration.

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