THE number of pupils sitting Gaelic qualifications is in decline despite a multi-million pound campaign to promote the language.

Official figures show a nine per cent drop in entries for all Gaelic exams in 2017 including National 5 and Higher.

Only nine candidates entered for Advanced Higher Gaelic (Learners) this year while just 69 sat a Gaelic language Higher.

Overall figures from the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) show there were 691 entries for Gaelic qualifications in 2017 compared to 759 the previous year.

The Gaelic language has protected status so low uptake will not impact on the future of the qualifications.

It is also likely numbers will increase in future years because of the growing interest from parents in Gaelic medium education (GME) - where most if not all lessons are taught in the language.

However, parents and language experts called for concerted action to address a number of issues including shortages of qualified teachers and subject choice.

Gillian Campbell-Thow, chairwoman of the Scottish Association of Language Teachers, said: “There are a number of issues, but one is the difficulty in getting qualified Gaelic teachers.

“There are huge issues for councils trying to get staff to teach Gaelic qualifications to those who want to learn the language.”

Mrs Campbell-Thow said another issue was pupils wanting to go to university were choosing subjects such as sciences or mathematics because they were deemed more relevant to higher education study and a future career.

She said: “A lot of parents put their children into Gaelic medium education because of the cognitive benefits of bilingualism, but not necessarily because they want them to be fluent Gaelic speakers.

“The pathways pupils take when they leave Gaelic medium education show many of them they don’t go on to use the language so there is a massive effort to make people see the relevance through career pathways.”

There are also concerns about the wider impact of Curriculum for Excellence on subject choice lower down the school.

Pupils used to sit seven or eight Standard Grades, but because of timetabling issues with new courses many schools have reduced the numbers to six or even five.

Magaidh Wentworth, parental officer for national Gaelic parent body Comann nam Pàrant, said the language was being squeezed out.

She added: “Pupils in secondary have more limited choices these days and in most areas only take six subjects at National 5.

“Generally language entries are falling and especially if young people are thinking about specific careers they need to concentrate on with specific subjects.

“It is very difficult to fit in Gaelic with this pressure and I think that is the main issue here rather than what is being offered by Gaelic teachers or schools. We need to address that”.

A spokesman for national Gaelic body Bord na Gaidhlig added: “We continue to work closely with local authorities, schools, parents and colleges on promoting the benefits of Gaelic medium education and on attracting and encouraging new teachers.”

Liz Smith, education spokeswoman for the Scottish Conservatives, said: “We have known for some time that Gaelic is under considerable pressure when it comes to finding qualified teachers and that, inevitably, has an effect on the availability of Gaelic in schools and therefore the ability of pupils to choose it.

“If there is any doubt whether a school can sustain a subject in its timetable pupils will often opt for something else, particularly when it comes to SQA options.”

The total number of Gaelic medium pupils at primary level has grown from 2,920 in 2016 to 3,145 in 57 schools throughout Scotland.

There are currently 31 secondary schools offering Gaelic as a subject for fluent speakers with 1,272 pupils as well as 3,195 pupils on Gaelic learner’s courses in 28 schools.

In 2014/15 £28.48 million was spent on promoting Gaelic across Scotland with £6.53m on education and £4m on school infrastructure.

Census figures from 2011 put the actual number of speakers at 58,000, with 87,000 people claiming to have some knowledge of the language.