Highlands & Islands

Conservative MSP's support for Gaelic after row over colleague

Pupils generic Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Gaelic is to become the default at Western Isles primary schools

A Conservative MSP has backed changes to Gaelic education in the Western Isles - despite the move being criticised by the party's education spokesperson.

The local council, Comhaire nan Eilean Siar, is to make Gaelic schooling the "default option" for new Primary 1 pupils.

Conservative education spokesperson Liz Smith told The Scotsman newspaper it was "a deeply troubling step".

But MSP Donald Cameron has now expressed his support for the change.

Mr Cameron is a list MSP for the Highlands and Islands.

Mr Cameron tweeted. "Personally, I support the decision of the @cne_siar (Western Isles Council) to change the default position to Gaelic at P1, not least because parents can still opt out and choose English medium education for their children if they so wish.

He added: "In terms of this policy, I am very confident that council officials will ensure that parents who do "opt out" are not marginalised in any way."

Mr Cameron said the Scottish Conservatives had long supported Gaelic.

All primary schools in the Western Isles offer the choice of an education in English or Gaelic.

At present, it is presumed that new Primary 1 pupils will be taught in the English class so their parents have to actively request a place in the Gaelic class instead.

But from this year, the presumption will switch around.

The move has no implications for staffing or catchment areas.

'Rich and beautiful'

On Thursday, Conservative education spokesperson Liz Smith criticised the change in the council's policy.

She told The Scotsman: "This is a deeply troubling step and one that could put children in the Western Isles at a distinct disadvantage to their peers.

"Gaelic is a rich and beautiful language and one that should be encouraged at school, but not at the expense of English.

"This worrying move will inevitably put pressure on primary children in the Western Isles to speak Gaelic for those first crucial years of school.

"That could have all sorts of consequences that have not been considered fully."

Her remarks were criticised by the comhairle and some SNP politicians.

The comhairle said: "This type of statement is suggesting that education in any language other than English, is detrimental to children's education.

"All reputable academic research and practice demonstrates that bilingual education has a hugely positive impact on cognitive development and learning for all children.

"Should the Scottish Conservative shadow education secretary continue to have concerns, she would be welcome to come and speak to us."

How is education changing in the Western Isles?

Parents in the Western Isles can chose whether children should be educated in English or Gaelic when they start P1. That isn't changing.

The presumption at present is that they will be educated in English unless their parents ask otherwise.

However the parents of nearly half of new P1 pupils chose Gaelic.

From this year, the presumption will switch round - parents would need to actively choose to have their children educated in English.

There will be no changes to the availability of English language education as a direct result of this decision.

The choice of English or Gaelic is available at all primary schools in the Western Isles - the decision has no implications for catchment areas or current staffing.

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