PARENTS from an island primary school have hit out after attempts to recruit a Gaelic teacher from Canada were thwarted by the Home Office.

Bunessan Primary School, on the Isle of Mull, have been trying to find a Gaelic teacher since June and finally secured the perfect candidate.


Bunessan Primary School

Sìne Halfpenny, from Antigonish, in Nova Scotia, Canada, is a Gaelic speaker and has also studied in Scotland and is qualified to teach here.

However, when Argyll and Bute Council applied for a visa for her to teach on the island, off the west coast, the Home Office refused.

Now parents have turned to their local MSP Michael Russell to try and secure a visa for Ms Halfpenny.

Herald View: Rules are rules, but common sense should play a part

Jennifer Johnston, who has four children at the school, said: “It felt like a miracle when we were given approval for Gaelic education at our school and lightning struck twice when we subsequently received an application for the teaching position from a suitably-qualified teacher.

“Along the way there have been various setbacks, but it seemed as though we’d made it and we just need to get over this last hurdle.

“We can’t see any logical reason why Sìne should not be given a visa - she is keen to fill a position that no-one in the country has applied to do. “Indeed, if she isn’t allowed to come and work here the very existence of the Gaelic medium unit will be called into question.”

Mrs Johnston said Home Office systems were getting in the way of common sense.

She added: “The rules are being adhered to, but whoever it is that sets the rules has lost sight of what their objective should be.

“Meanwhile, primary pupils are stuck in limbo waiting for their Gaelic teacher to arrive.”

Herald View: Rules are rules, but common sense should play a part

Mr Russell called on the Home Office to backtrack over the case.

He said: “The parents have done a lot of hard work to get a Gaelic unit established and to find that the final blockage in getting the dedicated teacher required is London Tory obsession with keeping migration numbers down is both outrageous and ridiculous.

“I have asked the Scottish Government to support the council in redoubling it’s efforts to get this sorted for the good of the children and community on Mull.

“I hope the UK Government will show some Christmas spirit and withdraw its objection now.”

A Home Office spokeswoman said the correct rules had been followed.

She added: “All visa applications are considered in line with immigration rules and on the evidence provided.

“Ms Halfpenny’s visa was refused as she did not submit a certificate of sponsorship.

“Her sponsor’s application, for a restricted certificate of sponsorship, was rejected as it failed to meet the required points.”

Argyll and Bute Council refused to comment.

Herald View: Rules are rules, but common sense should play a part

Ms Halfpenny, who studied business at the prestigious St Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia in 2004 before switching to Gaelic a year later, it said by parents to be desperate to start her new job.

In a blog on the university website written before the current issue arose she said: “I switched into Celtic Studies and focused on Scottish Gaelic, history and folklore.

“I became completely submersed in Gaelic culture and was fortunate to get bursaries to travel to Scotland in the summer of 2007 and win the scholarship to Scotland for the summer of 2008 to study at Sabhal Mór Ostaig.

“As an honours student I focused my research on Gaelic education and the developments in Nova Scotia.”

Currently teaching Gaelic at St Andrew’s Consolidated, an elementary school in Antigonish County, she added: “I love my job and I am proud that I get to pay back all the opportunities that were given to me.”

Under the 2016 Education (Scotland) Act an obligation has been placed on councils to investigate the case for a Gaelic school or unit whenever parents ask for one, as long as there is sufficient support. All public bodies also have to produce a Gaelic language plan.

In recent years there has been a significant increase in interest in the Gaelic language particularly in urban areas.

Herald View: Rules are rules, but common sense should play a part

However, there was a nine per cent fall in entries for all Gaelic exams in 2017.

There are also chronic shortages of Gaelic medium teachers making the spread of the language much more difficult.