Concerns children could miss out on local school places in Newtonmore if Gaelic classes expanded
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There are concerns new-starts could be deprived of places at Newtonmore Primary School if Highland Council proposals for more Gaelic medium education in the strath are rolled-out.
Community leaders fear families in the village wanting to have their children educated in English could miss out because of the planned expanded provision.
Education officials are recommending teaching in Gaelic should be made available to pupils across the whole of Badenoch and delivered at the school which is already nearing full capacity.
Using the premises – which have little space for expansion – for Gaelic, it is feared, could mean that in the future English medium education pupils, also including those from Dalwhinnie and surrounding areas, would have to attend Kingussie Primary School or elsewhere.
The council is to outline its plans at what will be one of the first public meetings in the Highlands – on August 24 – since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Projections for the school suggest a small drop in the roll over the next few years followed by a rise from 2025-26 onwards.
The council has said it expects to see a hike in the number of pupils at Newtonmore opting for Gaelic medium education (GME) and a fall in numbers for English medium education (EME).
The education authority states in its consultation paper: "Eventually we expect this to result in the school have three classes in GME and three in EME."
The proposal suggests EME teachers will be redeployed as anticipated numbers of pupils in English declines.
Highland Council has stressed existing primary school catchments for EME provision will be unaffected but that has not allayed community fears.
Newtonmore Community Council has said it has been trying to get answers to their growing concerns but the education authority has not provided any 'meaningful' response.
A spokesman said: "There is a clear plan – if there is no funding increase for this provision – that Highland Council will rob Peter to pay Paul.
"We were promised a reply to our concerns by the end of July but we have yet to receive a response.
"Our biggest fear is that the wider community is not aware of the full implications of this proposal.
"Tots about to go into nursery and babes in arms in the village could well be affected in the future if this cut to EME comes to fruition.
"We do not want this to be seen as a battle between English and Gaelic but this seems to be the way that Highland Council is portraying it.
"They are saying there will be more GME but it is going to be at the expense of other parts of the curriculum when there are other schools in the area not as near to capacity as Newtonmore Primary School which could be utilised for these additional pupils.
"It appears the council is presenting the local community with a proposal of increased GME with less EME provision – with little choice in the matter.
"Whilst any increase in provision of services is welcomed – why should our local community be forced to send their young children out of Newtonmore because other pupils are being transported in for GME provision?"
Local Highland councillor Muriel Cockburn (SNP) said that 'GME is hugely important for young people and families in Newtonmore'.
She commented: "It is important that access for all levels continues to be delivered locally. Full engagement with families must be undertaken and I welcome the public meeting planned for August 24.
"I'd urge people if they have any concerns to submit written responses to the consultation exercise being undertaken by Highland Council."
A Highland Council spokesperson said: “The purpose of the proposal is to specify catchment areas for many of our schools offering GME so we can increase clarity for parents in respect to entitlement to GME.
"Existing primary school catchments for the provision of English medium education will be unaffected.
"The consultation for this matter is currently ongoing and we are encouraging local community members to share their views with us before September 3.
"Details of the consultation and information on how to get involved in this discussion can be found on our website."
Up to now, the council’s admission arrangements to GME have been informal and based on a ‘reasonable distance’ – often applied as a 15 mile radius – from each school offering GME.
In the last academic year there were 30 pupils accessing GME at Newtonmore from P1 to P7. All but five were from the school’s catchment area.
There were 13 pupils in the Gaelic medium nursery with six from out with Newtonmore.
The change would have to be agreed by Highland Council’s education committee first and then go forward to the full council for ratification before being rubber-stamped by Education Scotland.