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Gaelic medium education (or GME for short) (Gaelic: Fòghlam tro Mheadhan na Gàidhlig) is a form of education in Scotland that allows pupils to be taught primarily through the medium of Scottish Gaelic, with English being taught as the secondary language. Education projects in other Gaelic countries; Irelandmarker (see Gaelscoil approx. 400 Irish-medium schools) and Mannmarker (see Bunscoill Ghaelgagh).

Gaelic medium education is increasingly popular throughout Scotland, and the number of pupils who are in Gaelic medium education at primary school level has risen from 24 in 2 schools in 1985, to over 2,000 in 62 schools between 2006 and 2007.

As there are still relatively few Gaelic schools, Gaelic medium education is mainly provided by gaelic medium units within English-speaking schools. Bunsgoil Shlèite, on the Isle of Skye, is odd in that it is a Gaelic school with an English Medium Unit.

The largest Gaelic school is Sgoil Ghàidhlig Ghlaschu, which caters for pupils aged three to eighteen and has a capacity of 800 pupils though it may increase to 1200 by 2012.

In January 2008, Highlandmarker councillors were presented with a report stating that demand for Gaelic medium education was so strong that four new Gaelic schools, in addition to the one in Inverness, were required. Plans were in place by mid 2009 to open two gaelic medium schools in Fort William and Portreemarker within two years and in August 2009 the Scottish government announced funding of £1.5m to speed up their opening.

Council provision

In Scotland, 21 out of 32 councils offer Gaelic Medium Education:

Council Provision
Aberdeen Citymarker (2008) No Gaelic schools.Gaelic unit within Gilcomstoun Primary Schoolmarker.
Angusmarker (2009) No Gaelic schools.Gaelic unit within Whitehills Primary School.
Argyll and Bute (2009) No Gaelic schools.Gaelic units within 6 primary schools: Bowmore Primary (Islay), Rockfield Primary (Oban), Sandbank Primary (Dunoon), Salen Primary (Mull), Strath of Appin Primary, Tiree Primary Department.
Clackmannanshiremarker some provision
Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (February 2009) 1 Gaelic primary school at Stoneybridgemarker.Gaelic medium is available in 22 other schools.
East Ayrshire (2009) Gaelic unit within Onthank Primary School.
East Dunbartonshire some provision
East Lothianmarker some provision
East Renfrewshire some provision
Edinburgh Citymarker some provision
Falkirkmarker some provision
Glasgow Citymarker some provision
Highlandmarker (2009) 1 Gaelic medium primary school (Bun-sgoil Ghàidhlig Inbhir Nis)1 Gaelic medium primary school with an English medium department (Bun-sgoil Shlèite)

18 Gaelic medium departments located within local primary schools. 8 secondary schools offer a range of subjects through the medium of gaelic and 5 others offer Gàidhlig as a subject.
Inverclydemarker some provision
North Ayrshire some provision
North Lanarkshire some provision
Perth & Kinross Gaelic unit within Goodlyburn Primary School
Renfrewshire some provision
Scottish Borders some provision
South Lanarkshire some provision
Stirlingmarker some provision


The history of Gaelic language schools (in the modern sense) in Scotlandmarker can be traced back to the early 18th century and the schools of the Scottish Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge or SSPCK. Ironically, one of the primary aims of the society was the de-Gaelicization of the Highlands and initially its schools taught exclusively through the medium of the English language with the equivalent use of Gaelic prohibited. However the insistence on teaching children in a language which was (in almost all cases) entirely foreign to them resulted in very little progress with regards to establishing literacy in the English language. This situation persisted until the collapse of the Jacobite cause in 1746 with the Battle of Cullodenmarker and the consequent collapse of the Gaelic speaking political structures and the pacification of the Highlands by the British Army in the ensuing decades. The change in political atmosphere following the Disarming Acts, as well as campaigning by the likes of Samuel Johnson - who was aghast at the fact the SSPCK was actively preventing the publication of the Bible into Scottish Gaelic - led to the change in attitudes within the Society. Johnson had to say of the matter:

"...there remains only their language and their poverty. Their language is attacked on every side. Schools are erected in which English only is taught and there were lately some who thought it reasonable to refuse them a version of the Holy Scriptures, that they might have no monument to their mother tongue."

Johnson, despite being commonly viewed as both anti-Scottish and anti-Gaelic, was actively involved in campaigning for the production of Gaelic literature and proposed the creation of a Gaelic press in the Isle of Skyemarker. The change in attitudes resulted in the production, by the SSPCK, of a Gaelic version of the New Testament in 1767 with the Old Testament being translated and published in 1801. 1767 also saw the SSPCK switch from English to Gaelic as the language of instruction in their Highland schools. A school in Inverness, Raining School, was also established to provide training for Gaelic speaking teachers.

The attitudes towards education and the promotion of Anglicisation have been described as resulting from "confrontation of two disparate societies...Lowland Scotland made plain its anxiety concerning the unreformed society in the north in terms of unease concerning is language, which was identified as the chief cause of barbarity, ignorance and popery" and can be seen as a continuation of such policies going back to 1609 and the Statutes of Iona which saw the Gaelic speaking nobility of Scotland forced to send their children to be educated in English speaking Lowland Scotland; an act which has been described as "the first of a succession of measures taken by the Scottish government specifically aimed at the extirpation of the Gaelic language, the destruction of its traditional culture and the suppression of its bearers." This was followed in 1616 by an act of the privy council which included a requirement that the children of the Highland nobility must be capable of speaking, reading and writing English if they were to be recognised as heirs.

The 19th century saw the establishment of the first Gaelic school society - the Edinburgh Society for the Support of Gaelic Schools - in 1811. The society stated its purpose thus:

"(the) sole object being to teach the inhabitants of the Highlands and Islands to read the Sacred Scriptures in their native maintain Circulating Schools in which the Gaelic language only shall be taught.

The new society attracted much support with similar organisations being founded in Glasgowmarker and Invernessmarker. The early success of the Edinburgh society was such that by 1828 it funded 85 schools in the Highlands and Islands with its sister societies enjoying similar levels of success. However following the early period of success the groups encountered financial difficulties due to poor administration and started to decline around 1830 and by 1850 only the original Edinburghmarker society remained although this branch, with strong support from the Edinburgh Ladies Association, continued until 1892. This was despite the introduction of the Education Act 1872 which effectively put an end to non-English medium education and led to the discouragement of Gaelic with pupils being punished by teachers for speaking the language. The effect of the education act upon the Gaelic language has been described as "disastrous" and the continuation of a general policy (by both Scottish, and post 1707, Britishmarker) which aimed at Anglicisation.

Pressure upon the Scottish Education Department in the years immediately following the act of 1872 saw the gradual reintroduction of certain measures providing for the use of Gaelic in schools. This pressure led to the undertaking by the department of a survey in 1876 which revealed a "distinct majority" of school boards within the Highlands in favour of the inclusion of Gaelic within the curriculum although it also revealed that some of those in Gaelic-speaking areas were against this. However the continuing reluctance of school boards to take full advantages of the limited provisions made for Gaelic within the school curriculum as well as well as the problems of financing the Education Act generally saw little use of the limited provisions for Gaelic within the schools. The severe financial difficulties suffered by Highland schools at this time saw the introduction of the "Highland Minute" in 1887 which aimed at aiding designated boards financially while also recognising Gaelic as a specific subject in the higher classes of both elementary and secondary schools. Grants to aid the supply of Gaelic speaking teachers were also introduced.

Despite these small measures towards the reintroduction of Gaelic into the classroom the manner in which the language was taught is thought to have contributed to its decline with the language being taught not as the native tongue of the pupils, via the medium of the language itself, but as an academic subject to be studied only through the English language with ever decreasing numbers of students studying the language.


Data as of 2007

of Pupils

only through Gaelic 739 0.11%
all curriculum through Gaelic or bilingual 1,283 0.19%
some curriculum through Gaelic, some through English 579 0.08%
Gaelic as subject taught through Gaelic 1,096 0.16%
taught as learner 5,049 0.73%
TOTAL 9,746 1.27%

See also



  • Thomson, Derick S. The Companion to Gaelic Scotland, (Blackwell Reference 1987), ISBN 0-631-15578-3
  • MacKinnon, Kanneth Gaelic: A Past and Future Prospect (Saltire Society 1991), ISBN 978-0854110476
  • Hutchison, Roger Gealach an Fhàis: Ùr Beothachadh na Gàidhlig (Mainstream Publishing 2005), ISBN 978-1840189995
  • Jones, Charles The Edinburgh History of the Scots Language (Edinburgh University Press), ISBN 0 7486 0754 4

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