HC Deb 03 November 1998 vol 318 cc661-3
2. Mrs. Ray Michie (Argyll and Bute)

What steps he is taking to encourage more Gaelic-speaking teachers to undertake training for work in Gaelic-medium units. [56102]

The Minister for Education, Scottish Office (Mrs. Helen Liddell)

The Government are committed to Gaelic and plan to spend £5 million more on Gaelic education over five years, including £200,000 annually for in-service teacher training.

Teacher education institutions have targets for Gaelic student numbers; suitable Gaelic-speakers taking a primary postgraduate certificate in education receive free tuition, regardless of any previous support that they may have received; and the Scottish Office funds publicity promoting Gaelic-medium teaching.

Mrs. Michie

I thank the Minister for that comprehensive answer. My particular concern relates to primary school Gaelic units. I remember that Strathclyde region identified Gaelic-speaking teachers in its area and offered them retraining, but nothing much happened. I hope that the Minister will undertake to encourage education authorities to identify Gaelic speakers, retrain them through colleges or distance learning, and offer them development prospects.

I invite the Minister to tear herself away from the central belt and visit the units in Mull, Tiree and Islay. She will see what excellent work they are doing, but they are always on a knife-edge in case they lose a teacher whom they cannot replace.

Mrs. Liddell

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her generous invitation, which I should love to take up. I know that she has had a particular concern about Salen primary school on Mull, which lost its Gaelic teacher and then lost the supply teacher, who moved away rapidly. I understand that a teacher is now in place, so that difficulty should have been resolved.

It may reassure the hon. Lady to know that Her Majesty's inspectorate of schools has undertaken research which shows that there are a substantial number of Gaelic-speaking teachers who are interested in teaching through the medium of Gaelic. Education authorities can provide support for those teachers to enable them to teach in Gaelic-medium units. The Government have set aside an additional £200,000 annually for in-service training for Gaelic teachers. Earlier this year the General Teaching Council held a seminar on Gaelic-medium education. My officials, together with the GTC, are seeking to address the issues that were raised at that seminar, with a view to making further progress.

Mr. Michael Connarty (Falkirk, East)

I welcome my right hon. Friend to her position on the Scottish Front Bench and congratulate her on her rise in status to membership of the Privy Council. She will recall that I wrote to her recently about other modern languages, as well as Gaelic. Can she tell the House what plans she has in store for Scottish schools to advance the learning of other modern languages, which are so vital in the present European context?

Mrs. Liddell

I thank my hon. Friend for his generous comments. I am aware of the correspondence that he sent me in relation to the teaching of modern languages. He will know that a recent report by Her Majesty's inspectorate of schools revealed rather disturbing news about the teaching of modern languages in Scottish schools. As a result, I have asked officials to strengthen the guidelines for initial teacher training to include stronger encouragement for developing modern language skills. I am also setting up a languages action group to work with the Scottish Consultative Council on the Curriculum to tackle a programme, including a review of the guidelines on modern languages for five to 14-year-olds, and to give advice on attainment targets for modern languages in primary and secondary schools. I will also ask the Scottish qualifications authority to review the standard grade arrangements for modern languages because, quite frankly, we cannot have a modern Scotland if the Scottish people are not proficient in modern European languages.