TOMORROW the message to 109 primary school children in Glasgow will be Ceud Mille Failte as they walk through the doors

of the first-ever Gaelic-medium primary school to be opened

in Scotland.

Situated in the former Ashley Street school building in the heart of the Woodlands area of Glasgow, the new school will conduct all its lessons in Gaelic, with English being treated as a second language.

Headteacher Mrs Donalda McComb, who formerly taught at the Meadowburn Gaelic Unit in Bishopbriggs, expects all children in Primary One to be able to

communicate orally with their teacher by Easter and to be fully bilingual by Primary Three.

A draft report by Professor Dick Johnstone, of Stirling

University, examining the attainment of children taught

in 34 Gaelic-medium units, appears to suggest they are

out-performing their peers in conventional schools.

If his final report confirms this finding, it seems likely that demand for Gaelic-medium primary schools - and perhaps even secondaries - will grow.

The Ashley Street Gaelic School - capacity 231 plus a nursery class - has come about largely as a result of parental demand, together with a willingness of Glasgow City Council to support the idea and the Scottish Executive to provide a total of #250,000 of funding.

Gaelic-medium education was introduced in Glasgow in 1985 when a special unit was established at Sir John Maxwell Primary in Pollokshaws. By the end of last year, its roll stood at 101 and the council was faced with the choice of either capping numbers at Sir John Maxwell or expanding provision and setting up a full Gaelic-medium school.

Even in the Highland Council's area and the Western Isles, there are no free-standing Gaelic-

medium schools, although a number of Gaelic-medium units operate within mainstream schools.

What, then, is the difference between a Gaelic-medium unit and a school?

The main difference is that pupils at a Gaelic-medium school do not have to switch into English when they join the other pupils at assembly, for instance. The language of the playground will be Gaelic, the menu in the canteen will be in Gaelic, and their textbooks, covering everything from maths to environmental studies, will be translated into Gaelic.

All 13 members of teaching staff, including the headteacher, senior teacher, nursery teacher, and nursery nurse, are Gaelic-speakers; the janitor is a Gaelic-speaker; at least one of the canteen staff will be a Gaelic-speaker; as will be the secretarial support staff.

''The whole ethos of this school is Gaelic whereas in a Gaelic-medium unit, English is the language of the school, playground, and all the other teachers that the children would come across,'' says Mrs McComb.

Parents are expected to contribute more in terms of support - such as pasting in the Gaelic translations to textbooks - than in mainstream schools. But, then, the parents who send their children to a Gaelic-medium school have, it could be argued, made more of a conscious, or positive, decision about their children's schooling than many others.

Pupils of Ashley Street Gaelic School come from a variety of backgrounds: their parents are natural Gaelic speakers; their parents speak some Gaelic, but English is their first language; one parent speaks Gaelic; their grandparents are Gaelic-speakers; or their parents simply want them to grow up bilingual.

From her experience at Meadowburn, Mrs McComb believes that children who have become bilingual in Gaelic and English early on in their lives can pick up a third language far more easily than others. (The school will offer German in P7.)

A nursery is attached to the school and will draw in children who would previously have gone to the Gaelic nursery units at Rowena Nursery in Anniesland and Oatlands Nursery in Gorbals. The school will be a feeder to Hillpark Secondary in Pollokshaws which offers Gaelic, history, geography, and Celtic studies.

Once they enter P1 they will be taught to read and write through the medium of Gaelic. Mrs McComb says: ''A variety of methods and skills are used to raise their confidence and help them respond in Gaelic, including using signs and role-play. The teacher has to be actor,

juggler, you name it, to encourage the children to develop their language skills.''

Resources are obviously scarcer than in many other schools, but some sharing is done with other education authorities with strong Gaelic units.

That, however, is outweighed, in the eyes of those supporting the school, by other advantages offered.

''It is a positive step towards

the safeguarding of the language,'' says Mrs McComb.

While Glasgow has led the field in this initiative, Edinburgh may not be far behind.

Its city council is carrying out a survey of parents of pupils at the Gaelic-medium unit at Tollcross as a preliminary to considering the setting up of a Gaelic school.

The unit's roll is expected to rise to 78 next year and the council's director of education, Mr Roy Jobson, has indicated that a target number of 90 to 100 would be necessary to make a school viable.

A spokeswoman for the Scottish Executive, meanwhile, described the opening of the Ashley Street Gaelic School in Glasgow as ''a momentous day for Gaelic education'' and welcomed the council's commitment to Gaelic.

She added: ''The decision on whether a dedicated Gaelic-

medium school is suitable for

any area is, of course, for the local authority itself to take . . .

If other local authorities apply

for Scottish Executive funding for dedicated Gaelic schools, each case would be considered

on its merits in the light of the available resources.''