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Review of Gaelic Medium Early Education and Childcare



As an addition to the original research plan, the Education Analytical Services Division of the Scottish Government emailed a letter to the directors of education in each local authority asking them to nominate a contact who would be able to provide information on Gaelic-medium early years and childcare provision in their area. Bòrd na Gàidhlig also provided contact names for some authorities. At least one contact for each LA was identified. Their responsibilities varied: officers or managers for Early Years and/or Childcare; Gaelic Education Officers and Gaelic Development Officers; Education Officers; and officers or managers for Quality Improvement. Initial contacts sometimes passed on the query to others, including head teachers at primary schools with GM and one Gaelic teacher in primary and secondary schools. Some reminder emails and phone calls were required.

All contacts were emailed and asked to complete a short questionnaire on provision in their area. All but two of the 32 authorities returned questionnaires or provided by email or telephone information that answered the questions. No information was returned by Fife (although the questionnaire was passed on to Early Years), but we have found no indication of any provision in the authority. The Orkney contact replied briefly to say there was no provision. Multiple responses were received from three authorities, Dumfries and Galloway (four), Highland (two), North Lanarkshire (two). Dumfries and Galloway circulated the questionnaire to all primary school heads, four of whom responded.


From the questionnaire activity, we established that 17 local authorities offer GM preschool provision: these are Aberdeen, Angus, Argyll & Bute, Clackmannanshire, East Ayrshire, East Dunbartonshire, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Highland, Inverclyde, Moray, North Ayrshire, North Lanarkshire, South Lanarkshire, Stirling, West Dumbartonshire, Western Isles. All but one of these provided lists of or information on nursery classes, playgroups and parent and toddler groups, but none gave details of childminders. The exception was Clackmannanshire, where there was no list because 'the scope of provision is limited', but this limited provision was not specified. The remaining 13 authorities that responded to the questionnaire in detail stated that they had no provision: these were Aberdeenshire, Dumfries & Galloway, Dundee, East Lothian, East Renfrewshire, Falkirk, Midlothian, Perth & Kinross, Renfrewshire, Scottish Borders, Shetland, South Ayrshire and West Lothian. The Fife contact passed on the questionnaire to the Early Years team, but it was not returned. Renfrewshire noted that 'in the information available on the childcare information service no providers have indicated that they speak Gaelic'.


LA contacts were asked about provision that had closed or opened in the past year and plans for closures or new provision in the coming year. Three authorities gave information about provision having closed and/or opened in the past year, and others gave information on a longer time-scale.

Aberdeen said that no provision had closed in the last year, but a group for two-year olds had previously closed because of lack of numbers. The LA contact (Gaelic education officer) also highlighted the impact of the national trend for most mothers with young children to return to work. Mothers working full-time need all-day provision, so a morning-only nursery (as at the one GM nursery class in the city) is not practical for them. This means that some pupils go straight into GM P1 without being in GM preschool provision first, which would be preferable. Low numbers do not allow the nursery class to expand to be full-time, but the Gaelic education officer felt that it was a 'chicken-and-egg' situation: she reported that a colleague at an Edinburgh nursery said their numbers had doubled/tripled when the nursery became full-time.

In Glasgow, Sgoil Àraich Lyoncross (nursery school) opened in 2008 because of parental demand. The other GM facilities at Sgoil Àraich Rowena and Sgoil Ghàidhlig Ghlaschu (Glasgow Gaelic School) have had very healthy intakes, with some sessions completely full. Little Scholars nursery at Langside College closed in May 2009, because the entire site is being redeveloped and there will no longer be accommodation for GM preschool provision there.

Several changes were noted in the Highland region. Several cròileagain (playgroups) in the Inverness area, including the one at Kinmylies Primary School, had closed because of the opening of the nursery class at the new Bunsgoil Ghàidhlig Inbhir Nis (Inverness Gaelic School) in August 2007. It was thought that groups run by CNSA in Culloden and Tomatin had closed, because of the lack of a playleader in the latter case. Later contact with the groups found that both had been without a Gaelic-speaking playleader for the last year or so; Culloden was therefore about to close, while Tomatin was continuing in the hope of getting a new playleader. One of the Highland contacts also commented that: 'The demand and interest is still there but it needs an organisation to put in the work to get them up and running. CNSA ceased to be interested in pre-school education a number of years ago and even then was lacking in know-how and ability.'

Although there had been no closures in the past year in the Western Isles, it was noted that a number of groups had closed in the past because of very low numbers. Groups with very low numbers are regularly monitored, and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar has a policy to top up funding for these groups provided they meet certain criteria.

The general pattern of provision in Argyll & Bute had not changed in 2008-09, but the level of Gaelic language input to each unit had changed, for example at Tiree Primary Gaelic Pre-Five Unit, and Strath of Appin Gaelic Pre-Five Unit. These changes to provision are 'related to the general issue of the availability of personnel with sufficient language competency to work with very young children'.

Four authorities discussed future plans. In Argyll & Bute, from 2009 onwards, the Early Years section at registration for Preschool Education records parental interest in GM provision. As part of the establishment of the pattern of provision of Preschool Education the need to develop GM provision is also considered and opportunities explored. Establishing a Gaelic Pre-Five Unit at Colgrain Primary School in Helensburgh is currently being considered. Edinburgh is currently looking into possibility of partner provision with the private sector, prompted by greater demand for pre-school provision, especially for childcare below age three. In Highland, it was hoped that a Ceuman Beaga group in Aviemore would be starting very soon. In Inverclyde, CNSA was trying to establish a carer and toddlers group.


Authorities were asked whether there was unmet demand in their area and if so what kind of provision was required.

Six authorities said there is unmet demand in their areas. Demand for wraparound care and all-day provision was mentioned by three (Aberdeen, Glasgow and Highland). Glasgow has some demand from parents for an all-day GM service ( i.e. continuous provision from 8.00 to 6.00). Highland reported that a voluntary group, Curam Chloinne Inbhir Nis, are presently developing proposals for a Pre-5 Centre in Inverness catering for all under 5s, located opposite the existing Bun-sgoil Ghàidhlig and offering full-time wraparound care through the medium of Gaelic and an After-School Club. This was seen as a very positive development, because there has been unmet demand for Gaelic childcare in Inverness for at least 15 years.

Highland also said that there is a demand for all types of Gaelic childcare and out of school clubs. Both in areas where there already is GM provision and in areas where there is no GM education, the question of whether it is a suitable area for the development of GM needs to be considered: 'If it is a potential GM area then the development of pre-school groups is important in creating the grassroots interest and developing awareness'. Childcare is also an area of unmet demand in some parts of the Western Isles and there is difficulty recruiting childminders and sustaining childcare in very rural areas.

Argyll & Bute said that unmet demand for preschool education is recorded, and commented that: 'Generally speaking in order to quantify demand for other childcare services the council would require to raise expectations which potentially it cannot meet'. Inverclyde mentioned demand for a Carer and Toddler Group.

22 authorities indicated that they were not aware of any unmet demand or that there was no unmet demand at present: Aberdeenshire, Angus, Clackmannanshire, Dumfries & Galloway, Dundee, East Ayrshire, East Dunbartonshire, East Lothian, East Renfrewshire, Edinburgh, Falkirk, Midlothian, Moray, North Ayrshire, North Lanarkshire, Renfrewshire, Scottish Borders, South Lanarkshire, Shetland, South Ayrshire, West Dunbartonshire, and West Lothian.

Inverclyde noted that there was no unmet demand for GM preschool education and that at present only 56% of places are filled. Aberdeen also said that demand for preschool education is met.

Two authorities noted increases in demand. Edinburgh noted that provision was approaching capacity, and East Ayrshire stressed that: 'Although the number of children attending the nursery class has increased there is no unmet demand as we have a statutory responsibility to provide a pre-school educational place for every child whose parent wishes one'.

Two authorities are currently reviewing provision or are planning to do so. As part of its draft Gaelic Language Plan, Glasgow is proposing to review provision in this area with a view to ensuring provision is adequate. Perth & Kinross was gathering information about all aspects of demand for Gaelic in spring 2009.

Stirling commented on the nature of provision in its only Gaelic nursery class: 'Riverside nursery offers Gaelic input as a part of the existing nursery class sessions. Pressure groups indicate that Gaelic provision classes within primary should be linked to a Gaelic provision nursery, but 2004 consultation by Head of Riverside Primary evidenced that at that time parents preferred Gaelic input into the existing nursery session'.


Following on from the questions on demand, authorities were asked what they did if they could not meet requests for GM provision.

Seven authorities said they had been/were currently able to meet such requests: Angus, East Dunbartonshire, Edinburgh, Glasgow, North Lanarkshire, Stirling, Western Isles.

Five authorities said they referred or would refer parents to neighbouring authorities: Clackmannanshire to Stirling; East Renfrewshire to Glasgow or East Ayrshire; Edinburgh to Glasgow; West Dunbartonshire to Glasgow Gaelic School with support for transport costs; West Lothian to Edinburgh. Aberdeen said that children from Aberdeenshire, which has no GM provision, were referred to Aberdeen.

Argyll & Bute said that GM was a preference rather than a requirement: 'Preschool education parents who indicate an interest in Gaelic generally name Gaelic provision in their area or put English medium providers as their option. Very few parents demand Gaelic as a must - it is mostly expressions of interest.'

South Lanarkshire said that parents would be supported through the Childcare Information Service if demand exceeded places available. Highland noted the importance of the local context: 'It depends on various factors. As a community worker I would not raise the issue of GM education in an area without first having thought through whether or not it was an area where it was likely to be supported by the Council.' Western Isles said that the council continues to provide incentives to encourage individuals to register as childminders. Renfrewshire said the childcare information service occasionally gets calls about transport.

15 authorities said they were not aware of any such requests having been made, or answered N/A: Aberdeenshire, Dundee, East Ayrshire, East Lothian, Falkirk, Midlothian, North Ayrshire, Perth & Kinross, Renfrewshire, Scottish Borders, Shetland, South Ayrshire, South Lanarkshire, Stirling, Western Isles.


Authorities provided information on a range of informal provision and on groups of parents who meet to speak Gaelic or promote the use of Gaelic with young children.

East Dunbartonshire mentioned Keith Scammell of CNSA, 'an organisation which promotes Gaelic from birth to aged 3 in the Dumbartonshire area'.


East Ayrshire, Edinburgh and Glasgow all mentioned Comann nam Pàrant, described by the East Ayrshire contact as 'a group of mainly non-Gaelic speaking parents who send their children to Gaelic Medium Education, meets on a quarterly basis and are vigorous in their support for GME'. Inverclyde had a parents' group on Friday mornings organised by the Gaelic Community Development Officer. Highland noted that staff in the Ceuman Beaga groups are employed by the Council but there is usually a parent committee who help with the development of the group. Clackmannanshire mentioned that parents with an interest in GM education are part of a parent group operating in the neighbouring authority of Stirling. North Ayrshire mentioned a group in Largs a few years ago who had an interest in Gaelic provision, but could provide no details; a contact provided by CNSA said that a group in Largs had closed in 2007 because of lack of demand, and it is likely that this is the same group.

Aberdeen reported a conversation class for parents in the school at the same time as the nursery class, and noted that this does not suit all parents because many are working, so some go to adult evening classes. East Dunbartonshire and Inverclyde mentioned evening/adult classes, but it was not clear whether these were aimed specifically at parents.

Highland mentioned Curam Chloinne Inbhir Nis, a committee of parents who are currently trying to establish a Gaelic wraparound facility project.

Two authorities noted the role of families, in particular, of grandparents. Argyll & Bute said that 'Informal Gaelic input is also occurring in some areas where personal contacts are strong between childcare providers and a Gaelic speaker, e.g. Granny!'. Western Isles reported that Gaelic-speaking grandparents provide a childcare service.

Support/activities offered by local authorities

Several authorities mentioned specific support or activities that they offer.

North Ayrshire has a peripatetic Gaelic Nursery Assistant, based at Children's Services in the Arran High School, who visits all pre-school establishments on Arran and provides play-based Gaelic input for the children.

Highland Council has a jobshare post in Gaelic Community Learning and Development for the whole Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey areas; part of the post's remit is to organise GM out of school provision, i.e. summer activities (mountain biking, canoeing, etc) through the medium of Gaelic. Inverclyde mentioned their Community Gaelic Development Officer.

Argyll & Bute are currently trying to produce a CD of the songs and rhymes in Gaelic for the 'Play at Home' books circulated to families of under fives through the GIRFEC (Getting it Right for Every Child) agenda, although the books have not been translated into Gaelic.

West Dunbartonshire has run or been involved in various one-off short-term family activities: two after-school family learning activities with primary pupils in P4/5 who are currently learning Gaelic and their parents or carers, with a further one planned for this year; a Gaelic trip for 8+-year olds and their parents to Inchcailloch on Loch Lomond with a programme of songs, stories, cartoons and games; a Gaelic weekend at the Gateway Centre of Loch Lomond National Park.

East Ayrshire said: 'Our Pre-5 Project - Parent and Toddlers continues to provide a Gaelic language and cultural experience for children 0-3 years through an immersion programme designed to encourage receptive and productive use of the Gaelic language. Six children were involved in the 2007-2008 session. Parents are supported to work with their children whether they come from a Gaelic or non-Gaelic speaking home. The focus this year has been language development through physical outdoor play'. East Ayrshire's Learning and Development Service also offers Gaelic tuition to parents and the 'Gaelic in the Home' provision encourages parents of young children to use their Gaelic with their children.

21 authorities said they were not aware of any such provision: Aberdeenshire, Angus, Dumfries & Galloway, Dundee, East Lothian, East Renfrewshire, Edinburgh, Falkirk, Midlothian, Moray, North Lanarkshire, Perth & Kinross, Renfrewshire, Scottish Borders, Shetland, South Ayrshire, South Lanarkshire, Stirling, West Dunbartonshire, West Lothian, and Western Isles.