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Scotland's first Gaelic-only school opens as linguistic devolution gathers pace

SEVERAL ENGLISH children, who understand no other language, were yesterday among the new pupils starting at Scotland's first primary school to teach only in Gaelic.

Bunsgoil Ghaidhlig Ghlaschu (Glasgow Gaelic School) is part of a UK-wide revival in teaching through Gaelic languages, which has recently seen the Isle of Man open several Manx-speaking nurseries and the development of Welsh-medium secondary schools.

Donalda McComb, the head teacher at Bunsgoil Ghaidhlig Ghlaschu, said that half the 20-strong reception class know no Scots' Gaelic starting out, but had been placed there by their parents, many of whom have themselves decided to learn the language at night classes.

"Many of the people from England see themselves as making a commitment to Scotland and we want to offer the highest standards," Ms McComb said.

"When a child arrives aged four or five, it takes them a little while to get used to the language We use a lot of songs, rhymes and visual aids. By Easter they should have a really good understanding and be able to hold conversations."

At the new Glasgow school, all the teaching staff are Scots' Gaelic speakers and, to make sure children are fully immersed in the language, even the secretary and janitor must be fluent.

Pupils will also learn to play the chanter for the bagpipes, the clarsach (Scottish harp) and traditional dancing. "Perhaps you could put it down to nationalism, but our school demonstrates that we are definitely seeing a revival in interest in understanding Scottish identity," said Ms McComb.

Scotland has been slower than Wales in developing Gaelic-medium education, even though between 75,000 and 100,000 Scots are estimated to speak Gaelic.

Even in the Highlands, Western Isles and Argyll, the traditional heartland of Scots' Gaelic, where large numbers of people are fluent, the best option for speakers is to attend one of the 34 Gaelic-speaking units attached to English-speaking schools. Only a few subjects are taught through Gaelic at a secondary level.

In contrast, in the Irish Republic, parts of the country are devoted to Irish Gaelic-medium teaching.

Glasgow Gaelic School, which is backed by a pounds 250,000 government grant, will for now be Scotland's only Gaelic-medium primary school, catering for 109 pupils aged from five to 12. English will be introduced - as a second language only - from the age of seven. The school will also include a Gaelic-medium nursery unit.

"The new school, opening on the cusp of a new millennium, is an ideal launch-pad from which to take Scottish Gaelic education into an exciting new future," said Councillor Bob Gray, convener of Glasgow City Council's education committee.

"We have created a first-class facility in which the Gaelic language can be taught and its traditions nurtured and developed."