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The Highland Line: does a Gaelic school need to be led by a Gaelic speaker?

Parents of pupils at Inverness’s Gaelic Primary School have been attracting a lot of attention since their representatives voted against appointing the only person to apply to become  their new permanent  head teacher,  because she didn’t speak Gaelic.

It now means that Highland Council  will have to advertise for an eighth time for somebody who fits the bill, making a nonsense of claims by some that the local authority is not trying hard enough.

The parents, or at least the most outspoken, have long made it clear that they believed that that to appoint anyone who wasn’t fluent and literate in the language would undermine the ethos of the school.

This would leave one to assume that the ethos is not in particularly good shape as it is, because the person they turned down, Annika Jansson, has been acting head of the school, a non-teaching post, since the summer of 2010  - one of three acting heads in the last three years.

Indeed there only has been one permanent head teacher, the first one,  Janet Macleod who was appointed prior to the school opening in August 2007 and remained in post until April 2009.

By all accounts Ms Jansson, previously a deputy head in Nairn, is a talented leader, and is already bilingual. But unfortunately it is in her native Swedish and English.

She doesn’t speak Gaelic, but two of her children are learning as pupils in the school, demonstrating a pretty clear commitment to the £4m school.

However,  the three parents on the selection panel this week are known to have voted against her appointment, while the three councillors supported her application. (The chairman was a councillor, but he didn’t use his casting vote: most assume because he didn’t want to fan the flames of controversy further.)

Ms Jansson felt she could apply because, after six attempts to get a fluent Gael, the council sought to open up the field to more applicants.

It is worth examining the terms of the advert, she answered. It read: “Whilst it would be preferable for the successful candidate to be fully fluent in Gaelic, applications are also encouraged from suitably qualified candidates whose linguistic abilities may need to be refreshed and/or developed; and from suitably qualified candidates who can demonstrate experience of working in a Gaelic environment.  Candidates who consider that they are not fully fluent must demonstrate a willingness and commitment to develop their Gaelic to a standard which will support them to undertake key duties/responsibilities and which will enable them to engage with the pupils at an appropriate level.  Where this is the case, Highland Council will support the successful candidate to acquire and develop these skills through appropriate Gaelic language training and development opportunities.”

So it is understandable that Ms Jansson thought she would be acceptable this time. It is equally understandable that, having been rejected, she has now asked the education authority to redeploy her elsewhere. It has agreed.

But what would  an industrial tribunal or court would make of how she has been treated?

Andrew Stewart, long time secretary of the Highland branch of the EIS  teaching union, wouldn’t speculate, but was clear: “This individual teacher has been put in a near impossible position.

"The manner in which it became public knowledge that not only was she an applicant, but  was indeed the only applicant, was outrageous. Nobody should have had to face that in what is supposed to be a professional selection process.
 
“On top of that it was also widely known ahead of the meeting that the parents on the selection panel were going to vote against her, regardless of how well the interview went, because she was not a fluent Gaelic speaker or literate in the language.

“It is already increasingly difficult to get candidates to apply for mainstream head teacher jobs, particularly in the primary sector where they often have to combine teaching duties with their management role.

"Obviously if only fluent Gaelic speakers need apply, it cuts the field right down. First and foremost this is a management post and Ms Jansson has carried out her duties  in a highly satisfactory way over the last two years.

"The appointment procedure for head teacher posts, and indeed all posts,  should have the confidence of all those involved in education and must above all, be fair and transparent. It appears in this case that these standards have not been maintained."

Highland Council has been left wondering if their two other proposed Gaelic primaries in Fort William and Portree will bring them similar headaches.

But things may be may well be different with the Gaelic community, particularly in Portree, far stronger. A higher proportion of parents of pupils will be native Gaels bringing greater confidence.

A majority of the Inverness parents are not fluent Gaelic speakers, but quite rightly are very determined that their children will be. However, their representatives’ intransigence has provided an opportunity for those with little sympathy for Gaelic taking a swipe at public money being spent on it.

There is also evidence of growing dissatisfaction among other parents of pupils at the school. One posted on the Inverness Courier’s website: “Absolutely shameful! I have been delighted with our daughter's education at Bun-sgoil Ghaidhlig Inbhir Nis under Ms Jannson's leadership. Shame on the interview panel, shame on them!”

Jura Direct

The reality of modern life in a small island community is being played out on Jura at present where a ballot is being conducted to see if there is support for a community buyout of the only shop.

The 200 islanders’  nearest alternative is in Bowmore, on Islay, which involves a 10-mile drive from Jura's main settlement Craighouse to the ferry terminal -  far further for those who live in the north of Jura .

The crossing of the Sound of Islay is then followed by another 10-mile drive. Then there is the return journey. No Tesco or Asda  deliveries  there.

The owners of Jura Stores, Steve and Bev Martin, have run the shop since 1990, but have found it very difficult to keep it going and have been trying to sell the business. Despite advertising it for sale, there was no interest.

They were faced with having to close it down but approached the community-led Jura Development Trust, which has applied successfully to Scottish ministers to exercise a Community Right to Buy under land reform legislation. The Scottish Government appointed an independent valuer who has put a price of £95,000 on the business.

Information packs have gone out to all those eligible to vote and already over 50 have used a postal vote. The rest have until 6pm on Wednesday November 28. Islay and Jura  Council of Voluntary Service, who are running the vote,  will be in Craighouse with a ballot box on that day. A public count will then be conducted between 7-8pm.

The community has already received development funding from Highlands and Islands Enterprise and the Big Lottery  to work on the shop project, and the islanders are desperately hoping  that these bodies will help fund the purchase if, as widely expected, the community votes to proceed.

Radio waves in  Wester Ross

Best wishes to the Lochbroom FM radio station based in Ullapool and Gairloch-based Two Lochs Radio, who are  to link up to provide a new local radio service for the area, beginning this winter.

At the same time Lochbroom FM will continue to develop an internet-only radio service from its Ullapool studio. The Two Lochs Radio service is also available online and through mobile phone apps.

Lochbroom FM, is a not-for-profit company with independent directors and around 20 volunteers. A community radio association was formed in 1994 and initially went on air from a small tin shack with a transmission radius of 20 miles and  in 1997 Lochbroom FM launched.

The present company was formed when a new purpose built station was proposed. This was funded through a variety of grants and was opened in September 1998.  The transmission area increased north to cover Achiltibuie and Lochinver and south to Dundonnell and out across The Minch.

Two Lochs Radio is also celebrating its ninth anniversary of providing a community-based radio service to the Gairloch and Loch Ewe areas of Wester Ross. The station is a not-for-profit body supported by programme sponsorship, advertising, donations and local fundraising events.

It is currently working on a major development project supported by Highland Leader 2007-2013 and Highlands & Islands Enterprise to enhance its coverage of other parts of Wester Ross, including the Torridon and Achnasheen areas.

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Education

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