PRIMARY pupils taught in Gaelic are outperforming children in mainstream Scottish schools, according to new figures.

Scottish Government statistics show pupils in Gaelic primary schools are doing better at reading, writing, listening and talking at nearly every stage of primary.

Gaelic medium education - where pupils are taught most or all of their lessons in Gaelic as well as studying English - is increasingly popular in Scotland with more than 3,500 children taught in 2014.

A new Education Act has now placed an obligation on councils to investigate the case for a Gaelic unit whenever parents ask for one.

However, local authorities have argued the measure is impractical because of a shortage of funds and a lack of qualified teachers.

There is also hostility to Gaelic from critics who argue it is a “dead language” and that investing in it is therefore a waste of money.

Shona MacLennan, chief executive officer with Bòrd na Gàidhlig, welcomed the figures.

She said: “Many studies have proven that pupils in bilingual education are on a par with, or outperform, children educated in just one language as well as gaining other benefits.”

Elspeth McCoull, headteacher of the Glendale Gaelic Primary School in Glasgow, said there were many benefits for children “immersed” in a second language.

She said: “Children learning through play in a Gaelic medium nursery will very quickly pick up vocabulary and simple phrases.

“Research has shown children who are bilingual are more aware of different cultures, other people and other points of view.”

Fiona Dunn, Gaelic development officer for Glasgow University, said the results were influenced by the positive attitudes of parents.

She said: “The kind of parents who choose this are very engaged and motivated which has a positive impact on their children’s learning both in and outside school.”

The results come as academics are set to embark on a study of how Gaelic is perceived by secondary pupils and its effects on their development.

Researchers from Edinburgh and Heriot-Watt universities hope to be able to prove the benefits of bilingualism can be demonstrated among speakers of heritage languages such as Gaelic.

Dr Maria Garraffa, assistant professor at Heriot-Watt University, said: “We hope to prove the theory that the effects of bilingualism on the brain are not contingent upon the fact that a speaker is using a small heritage language like Gaelic or a global language like French or Spanish.

“Studies have shown bilingual individuals have a different cognitive flexibility which improves their ability to adapt when faced with a new situation, whether it’s integrating themselves into a new group, switching jobs or learning a new skill. The results are still not robust and more research is needed.”

The Government figures show the proportion of Gaelic-educated P4 pupils achieving expected levels in reading, writing and listening and talking were 79 per cent, 76 per cent and 87 per cent respectively. Equivalent figures for non-Gaelic pupils were 75 per cent, 69 per cent and 81 per cent.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We are strong supporters of Gaelic and it is our aim to create a secure future for the language in Scotland.”

He added: “Gaelic is part of our identity and culture and Gaelic medium education offers good quality bilingual education for children across the country.

“Not only does Gaelic medium education offer the opportunity to engage with Scotland’s oldest, living language, but studies have also shown that children raised in a bilingual environment can gain many increased cognitive benefits, leading to higher attainment levels.”