Document 1381

Lecture: the Glasgow Gaelic School

Author(s): N/A

Copyright holder(s): SCOTS Project

Audio transcription

F947 I'm from South Uist originally, and I came from a Gaelic-speaking home. Er, there were nine children in the family and I was the third oldest. By the time my younger brother went to school, his first language was English because we had television. And er the situation was that you were basically told er "What's Gaelic ever going to do for you?" So I'm here standing in front of you as the the headteacher of the first stand-alone Gaelic primary school in Scotland, which opened in nineteen ninety-nine.

Now, erm, as you can see up here what I've got is er Woodside Gaelic School. Now, there have been other developments within Glasgow City, who have erm been very proactive along with my parents in developing erm from from the Gaelic Primary School, let's now look at secondary. So erm we had a consultation with the Scottish Executive and Glasgow City Council about a year and a half ago, and they supported the development of a three to eighteen school. Now, it's called at the moment the Woodside Gaelic School but the name might change.

So what I'm going to give you today is just a vision for the future for this school which is due to open in August two thousand and six. [inhale] But I'll also give you a little bit of information about erm the Glasgow Gaelic primary school and Gaelic-medium education in Glasgow. So let's hope I get this right, yes! Erm, Gaelic-medium education er took off in Glasgow in nineteen eighty-six, eighty-seven, when the first Gaelic-medium unit was established in Sir John Maxwell primary school, which is on the south side if any of you are familiar with it. Erm it was very erm very popular unit and children eh were transported to it from all over the city. Erm, the roll of the the Gaelic-medium unit which is attached to a mainstream primary grew to a hundred and five in nineteen ninety-eight, ninety-nine, and the parents lobbied long and hard with Glasgow City Council to establish a stand-alone school, and lo and behold it opened in er August nineteen ninety-nine, and I was appointed as the headteacher.

Now, my background was I was a Gaelic-medium erm senior teacher in Bishopbriggs, which also had a Gaelic unit attached to Meadowburn Primary School, and there a number of Gaelic units dotted about in the Central Belt, in North Lanark, South Lanark, er East Ayrshire, er Stirling. So e- as you can see the the amount of interest in Gaelic-medium education has grown over the years, and, you know, there are pockets in the Central Belt, but also all over the Highlands and Islands. Now, er, again within Glasgow pre-school provision was developed and er we at the moment have three nursery erm establishments. Er one is a private nursery at Langside College which has zero to five provision; er there's also Rowena Nursery which is attached to erm Knightswood Primary; ah and there's also er Oatlands Nursery in the Gorbals but unfortunately with the pre-twelve strategy, that nursery might close because of the the new school opening in August two thousand and six. Erm when the children went to Sir John Maxwell, erm, er, obviously for their secondary education they they had to go to the associated secondary school, which at at the time was Hillpark Secondary, so a Gaelic department was set up in Hillpark, er which originally consisted of just pro- a teacher teaching Gaelic as a language, but then over the years had developed into teaching History through the medium of Gaelic and also Geography. Erm, I think some of the teachers also take aspects of Personal and Social Education. Erm, and er, that was it. Sc- school of twelve hundred pupils as well. With very small numbers at that time coming through from erm Sir John Maxwell. Er, I think the the average size of class at that time was maybe er up to fourteen children. So it was very small numbers in a very big school. So ehm what er was perceived or felt that was happening in that situation was that the language was diminished, because obviously huge timetable, maybe four periods a week for Gaelic at the time, and the fluency of the children was erm eh probably diminishing as a result of not having the the contact that they would have in the Gaelic unit at that time. But also ehm what they then would have in the Glasgow Gaelic Primary School, which is Bunsgoil Ghàidhlig Ghlaschu.

Now, Bunsgoil Ghàidhlig Ghlaschu opened in nineteen ninety-nine and it's just like going into any primary school in the city, except that the walls are covered in erm [tut] displays with the Gaelic language and when you go into classrooms, that's what you'll hear, the janitor speaks Gaelic, all the the staff around the school are are Gaelic speakers, apart from a couple of cleaners and a dinner lady. But the whole ethos of the school is centred around the Gaelic language. Er we we have the five to fourteen curriculum; we cover all the subjects that you do in any other primary school, from enterprise, to RE, to drama, to PE, to music, to whatever. Er but the main language of the school is Gaelic. The children when they enter at Primary One go through what's called the Immersion Phase, er which lasts until they have attained the learning outcomes for Level A in reading and writing, which is usually about two and a half years, so midway through Primary Three, once they have attained the language outcomes in Level A, English is introduced. But what we have found is that children once they have learned er sk- reading skills, writing skills in Gaelic, as it is, they transfer them, quite readily. Erm we have children who are maybe reading "Harry Potter" before they 'v- were formally introduced to English within the school.

Erm I think it- it's important that the mother tongue of these children is intact, because, as I wex- was explaining to some people, about sixty percent of the children who come in to me come from homes where no Gaelic is spoken. [cough] And they have no connection whatsoever to the Highlands and Islands, or the perceived areas where Gaelic is spoken. Ehm so basically the- their mother tongue is key when they come in; we have children who come in with [cough] speech and language difficulties, and we try to support them as best we can. But it's just a case of Gaelic latches itself onto the mother tongue. And it's amazing how quickly the children who come into Primary One pick up the Gaelic language, ehm even though they might not have attended a nursery beforehand. Ehm, so they go through what's called the immersion phase and English is introduced midway through Primary Three. It's usually just reading and writing, as you may or may not know, there are only eighteen letters in the Gaelic alphabet, so we have to look at the phonics and spelling and er introducing and just looking at prior learning and prior knowledge. Ehm, and reading; that's basically what they do at the end of Primary Three. When they come in to Primary Four, more time is allocated to English, but just as a subject, as part of our core language, er for the week, so the time allocation might be eighty percent Gaelic, reading, writing, twenty percent English, reading, writing skills.

Ehm, and then as they move through the school, the amount of time allocated increases; it's up to about fifty percent for Gaelic and English in Primary Five. But then when we come into Primary Six, we also do German as a modern language, so it's usually forty percent English, forty percent Gaelic and twenty percent for the modern language. Ehm what is taught eh th- in in language in in Gaelic for example, if you're looking at specific writing skills, for example, or grammar as you brought up earlier on, ehm, they would be taught specific things f-f- for Gaelic grammar, er, and then they would be taught at another er eh stage, eh specific things for English grammar. But for example writing skills: they'll be taught, whether it's exploring text in Gaelic and the skills that they pick up from that, they would just transfer to English. It wouldn't be taught again in English, that's what I'm trying to say. Erm, so, I I think you probably, maybe have a couple of questions with regard to that at at the end of this, but I'll I'll carry on just now, because the the Glasgow Gaelic School was so successful, we started off with a hundred and five pupils and we're now up to a hundred and ninety-four. We had an intake of forty Primary Ones in August. And erm that's the highest ever number of children coming into a Gaelic medium establish- anywhere in Scotland, anywhere in the world, actually.

So, ehm, the building that we're in was getting too small as well, so it was important that we had to look to the future, and when we were looking to the future at another building we began to think about the secondary aspect of it. And ehm, my parents are very committed, ehm very vocal, ehm and through a lot of consultation er, and discussions with Glasgow City, it was decided to, yes, we need a new building for the Primary School, the nursery's also getting popular, so let's look at a three to eighteen model. So, Woodside three to eighteen Gaelic-medium school is where we're heading and this is my vision for that school.

Ehm, I've taken a quote here from "A Curriculum for Excellence", ehm, and I think it's quite relevant to what our proposals are, our vision is for the Woodside three to eighteen school. Ehm er at the moment, the three sectors, you know we we have to look at, but Primary and Nursery are very well established, so the three areas that we're going to look at, particularly in Nursery, is just the continued development, to make it more accessible for as many people as, who want their children educated through the the medium of Gaelic, and to have the opportunities that they can access nursery provision anywhere in the city. The Primary, it's just the continued expansion of the school; o- our roll will increase when we move into this building. Er, the proposed plans for this building have included enough erm er rooms for maybe a two-stream primary, and I think judging by the kind of increase in roll over six years, I think we'll very quickly move to having two streams within the Primary School.

And then the key area is the development of secondary, because as I said before er there are er Gaelic units dotted about the country, and equally there are Gaelic departments within secondary schools, but most of the subjects offered are either History, Geography or Gaelic; some schools have been very visionary and maybe have introduced er Home Economics through the medium of Gaelic in first and second year, er some schools ha- again have looked at Maths but that's what our vision is, that we find and support these areas, we find staff er who are able to teach their subject, er at secondary level. And it's not going to be easy.

Erm, just to out-, just to go over a couple of things with the the nursery and and the Gaelic er primary, ehm, as I said, we want to increase the number of places, and we also want to develop links with other pre-five provisions, because I think sometimes, w- we don't want to be insular, and and I don't believe that my school is just a little Gaelic ghetto, but I think one area we need to improve on is to let other schools, other establishments know what we're about. Ehm, and it's important as well because of aspects within Child at the Centre at pre-five that they know about their Scottish culture as much as learning French. So, ehm, that's an area that we're going to be looking at. Eh, again improving transition procedures as well, to allow, you know, easy access, if if parents want to send their children to to the Primary. Eh, and the CPD of staff, but I think that's ehm, that would be a- an area for all establishment, not just just mine. Ehm, I mean the the thing I- I've got down there, improve school and playground facilities, the building that we're in is very small, the playground is minute, we don't have any pitches or anything like that, and if we're moving toward being a health-promoting school, these are areas that are very important to the development of a school community.

Ehm again we're looking at the [?]review[/?] for enrolment procedures because at the moment I don't have a catchment area for the Primary School, so, because children come from all over the city, and also from other authorities that don't have Gaelic provision. Ehm, and they they have to go to, parents have to go to their local primary school, complete a form there and then fill in a placing request for me. So th-, as you may or may not know, the placing request procedures, ehm parents do not really get a final decision till the end of May. And I feel that really impacts on the the transition arrangements that we could have with parents and children coming in cause we have to wait till that length of time. Ehm, so I think that's a a key area for the Primary School to look at. Again, staffing, the CPD, I've been very fortunate, I must say, because of my school being in the City Centre, if I have a a post, vacant post, and I advertise, I usually get about three or four candidates, but it creates a knock-on effect; they might come from North Lanark, South La-, then they have to start looking for Gaelic teachers, and sometimes there aren't enough to go around. Ehm, equally though, it's to develop my own er st- staff's skills, I mean w- we're at the moment looking at the implications of the DDA, erm and erm special educational needs, and within Gaelic-medium education, there aren't very many people with areas of expertise like that, so we we have to kind of ehm improve our own skills with regard to that, but also ehm find ehm people who can support us in these areas, for example, if we have children diagnosed with dyslexia, should they be at a Gaelic school, should they be at a mainstream school, would the the problem, does it make any difference? So it's really just u- updating our own skills with regard to that. [cough]

One of the key strengths of my school is that we're very, we very much promote extra-curricular activities. And er, the children, we we raise the profile of the school by erm having our children at a whole range of events throughout the city, and we're also invited to places to perform. Er but within the school, we have ehm, a piping tutor and a clàrsach tutor and choirs, and it's not just learning a a language, it's about learning about the culture, and giving children skills and opportunities that they may or may not have, if they hadn't, parents hadn't bought into Gaelic-medium education.

Ehm, supported study activities as well, it- it's very important for for us as a school to support parents, because parents are quite anxious, although they've made a commitment to send their children to Gaelic-medium education, and they don't have Gaelic themselves, they have issues about homework, so we've put a number of strategies in place to support parents, including homework booklets, where things are eh, phrases like "complete the sentence" are written in English, Gaelic and phonetically, so they can learn a little bit alongside their parents, er alongside their children. We've also had er teachers taking er parent classes in the evening, er, so any kind of new language that's coming up, within reading or Maths or whatever, their parents are familiar with it. But, children just overtake their parents, and just very quickly, er er parents try to keep up but they can't, so, I think the anxious period as well, it's usually Primary One. By Primary Two, they see, "Oh well they know what they have to do." Ehm, if there are any issues, we have very good communication with teachers. My parents, as I said are very pro-active, and they've produced a homework helpline on a computer, where they can type in, just like your site there, where they can type in problems, and we've also got parents at the end of a phone, so all these support strategies erm, I think are a-a- another strength of of this erm Gaelic-medium school.

Okay, so, moving on to the the secondary, and er, the most recent document that was produced was by HMIE, and it was a prov- improving achievement in Gaelic, and I've put two key quotes from that with regard to ehm secondary and where we have to look erm to further develop Gaelic-medium education. [inhale] Ehm, one of my my key po- er jobs at the moment, ehm, as the new headteacher of this school, is the recruitment of staff. Ehm, the management structure of this school is one headteacher, a deputy for the primary and a deputy for the secondary, and we're also erm a- ehm interviewing for a pastoral care PT which is going to be so important in in the development of the school. But, one of the aspects o- for recruiti- recruitment of staff is that they need to be fluent Gaelic speakers, ehm, because they're expected to teach their subject erm through the medium of Gaelic, they're expected to prepare resources, to prepare courses. So for this to succeed, for this to work, we need to have the best staff that we could possibly get, who are fluent in Gaelic, but also committed to the Gaelic-medium education and to preservation of of this language.

Ehm, as I said before, there are just limited subjects available, so within the last year er we have a- an advisor within Glasgow who has a remit for Gaelic education, and he's been very pro-active in advertising erm er meetings and seeking people to to contact him who have an interest, who might be interested in in teaching their subject through the medium of Gaelic. And we've been quite successful in in finding people that we didn't know existed, and I think the other authorities, when Glasgow ha- er erm got the the perm-, you know the go-ahead for this school, thought "they're going to steal all our teachers", but we're not; most of the teachers are within Glasgow, who work in mainstream schools, so, er again we're at the early stages of that, but we're hoping to have a core number of staff in place er before August two thousand and six, hopefully working on courses and er developing materials. Er, and again the CPD requirements, as I said, they have to be fluent speakers, er but, you know, you might have somebody who is a Gaelic speaker who maybe needs to kind of update their skills with regard to terminology and that sort of thing. So we're going to have to look at CPD requirements. We've also carried out a gap analysis, and that's where we found out about Home Economics being taught through the medium of Gaelic, so we've gathered er bits of information from all over the country. And erm Stòrlann are the the national resource base for Gaelic-medium education, and they've been instrumental in erm a- acquiring this information and also looking to the future, to see what areas need to be developed first, which subjects. W- we have a a Gaelic maths scheme, erm and it was actually Heinneman maths, New Scottish Heinneman Maths, and it was produced alongside the new er Scottish Heineman Maths in English, so we're very much up to date with regards to the Maths, five to fourteen, but it's the key stages after that.

Erm, it's also hoped er that if there are er difficulties with particular staff, in particular areas, that we might have opportunities for er video-conferencing, and, you know, an ICT project, although it's best to have a body in front of a class, ehm because ICT sometimes can can let you down, although not today, I'm p-, I've never used one of these, so I'm pleased, to to know. Ehm, for for erm, ehm, loo- looking at different models as well, I actually visited schools in er Belfast, ehm, looking at the Irish-medium situation there; they started a secondary school with nine pupils, er, [inaudible] interesting model that we could actually take good practice from. Er, I also had a look at schools in the islands, but they're not as far ahead as we are down here, they're not as visionary, and I I really don't know why, because people would assume that the first Gaelic-medium school would be based in the islands, but it's not, it's in in a city. Erm, so they'll be looking to us to see how we progress, [?]with it[/?], and they might take erm examples of our good practice and try and implement it in their own situation.

But I think the key with the the the Woodside eh three to eighteen school is parents, because parents want this and parents are supported and they're committed. Ehm, so there could be also opportunities for dual language projects, and and Stòrlann have already produced materials, er maybe novels produced by Irish writers, and they've been translated into Gaelic, so there are other opportunities there that we could exc- explore with regard to resources. Now the curriculum design, erm a- we're going to be phasing in er pupils, first and second year, erm, at Hi- at Hillpark at the moment, Hillpark Secondary, we have pupils from from first to sixth year, some children sitting Advanced Higher, eh, there are three teachers in Hillpark, er but I've appointed one of them as my deputy, so there are issues for Hillpark with their provision, so we're hoping to kind of share resources, up until such times that Hillpark no longer have Gaelic students. Er, but my current Primary Seven will be the the first year in August two thousand and six, and interestingly enough, they were my first Primary One, and it would have been an ideal opportunity to have some sort of research project, which, if, it had started with them, to see if there was any impact on the fluency, on the learning of children within a school as opposed to a unit, but it didn't happen, so a missed opportunity, possibly.

Ehm, so, as you can see, we're phasing in er pupils from Hillpark and also possibly other authorities, where parents see er if it's a good model, that they want their children to erm have the opportunities as well. Erm, timetabling issues are obviously going to be key for all the secondary colleagues in here, erm, if we can't get er sta- enough staff erm and we're starting with a very small number of children, it's obviously going to be part-time posts, sharing of posts, job-sharing, that sort of thing. But we're also going to be linking with Hillhead Secondary, sharing staff with them, until such times that we have the full complement, the full erm curriculum. Er, resources, as I've said before, that's an ongoing issue, but there are opportunities for curriculum flexibility as well, erm, some of the issues that I think Brian raised earlier on, this would be an ideal opportunity to to kind of erm start things in a in a very creative one, but again, you know, we have to be sure it's a quality model, and erm that ehm the end result is is a viable one. Ehm, again, I've got S1 to S2 there, but it could be S1 to S3, ehm, it's the development of certificate courses as well, because at the moment some of the the Gaelic-medium experience the children have in other areas, in Home Economics, etcetera just go to second year, so, we really have to have a look at what's available and build on that or create new courses. So it'll be very much collaborative work with the SQA and other bodies.

Ehm, I also think it's an ideal opportunity to develop erm industry and workplace links, because th- it's amazing the the people out there who have Gaelic language skills and are in very interesting careers. It's not just the BBC or STV, but there are other people who've who've used their their language in very creative ways. We were involved with a ehm a group, a new arts group who ehm recently, and er Primary Sevens, along with s- Maryhill Primary and St Pat's in Anderston, and they came together for a a eh creative music project, which which er f- er fused hip-hop, Gaelic song and er used instruments, banging on tables, and it was very i-, and the opportunities are just endless, I think. But erm, we have children within the school who are h-, you know, are very academic, but we've also got the other end of the spectrum, and we need to make sure that we're providing opportunities for them, that they can go on from this secondary school and go to a workplace or use the skills they've acquired.

Ehm, and again f-f- fifth and sixth year, just to continue development and links with Further Education institutes, erm I think erm, that that's a major issue, because if if children are sitting Highers in erm specific er curriculum er areas through the medium of Gaelic, where's that going to lead them when they want to go into University? So that's another area that needs to be explored. Ehm, so this is going to be a learning community, erm and the bullet points that I have here are are the key to the success of the Woodside three to eighteen school, you know, there has to be cohesive links between the three sectors. Very much quality teaching and learning; I have a very committed staff at the primary school and I'm hoping to erm appoint similar individuals for the secondary, because for this to succeed, we need to have people like that, but good practitioners as well. Ehm, a progressive but flexible curriculum, to support the needs of all pupils, because as I said we have the academic children but we've also got children who require support. The continued raising of attainment and achievement; our children do very well in the national assessments. Ehm, and our policy is, you know, they go through the immersion phase, ehm but they just sit national assessments at Primary Seven but what we find is they attain the same level as their peers and sometimes better. Ehm, and could that be because of the bilingual situation they're in, their brains having to work twice as hard, the transition from one language to another? Who knows? That's another research project for somebody maybe.

More opportunities in the expressive arts as well, ehm, I'm actually hoping to have a pipe band, because we have very accomplished pipers within the school. Ehm, the promotion of citizenship and inclusion, vital of course, ehm and also the continued involvement of parents, who, if they hadn't been involved in the first place, the school wouldn't have been the success it is.

Ehm, and again just a quote from the Improving Achievement in Gaelic document, ehm: "Local authorities and schools need to play their part fully in promoting the growth and development of Gaelic. Working together they should ensure that new generations of young Gaelic speakers are developed to secure a vibrant language and culture for future generations." And that's me. So thank you very much. [audience clapping]

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Information about Document 1381

Lecture: the Glasgow Gaelic School


Audio audience

Adults (18+)
Informed lay people
For gender Mixed
Audience size 6-20

Audio awareness & spontaneity

Speaker awareness Aware
Degree of spontaneity Partially scripted

Audio footage information

Year of recording 2005
Recording person id 607
Size (min) 28
Size (mb) 160

Audio setting

Recording venue Small lecture room
Geographic location of speech Glasgow

Audio relationship between recorder/interviewer and speakers

Not previously acquainted
Speakers knew each other N/A

Audio transcription information

Transcriber id 718
Year of transcription 2006
Year material recorded 2005
Word count 4849

Audio type

Lecture/talk, sermon, public address/speech
General description Talk given as part of Continuing Professional Development course


Participant details

Participant id 947
Gender Female
Decade of birth 1960
Educational attainment College
Age left school 17
Upbringing/religious beliefs Catholicism
Occupation Headteacher
Place of birth Bornish
Region of birth Western Isles
Country of birth Scotland
Place of residence Glasgow
Country of residence Scotland
Father's occupation Crofter / Sailor
Father's place of birth South Uist
Father's region of birth Western Isles
Father's country of birth Scotland
Mother's occupation Housewife
Mother's place of birth South Uist
Mother's region of birth Western Isles
Mother's country of birth Scotland


Language Speak Read Write Understand Circumstances
English Yes Yes Yes Yes At home, at work
Gaelic; Scottish Gaelic Yes Yes Yes Yes At home, at work