A FORMER headmaster has warned that opening a Gaelic-only school in the heart of one of Scotland's island communities risk fostering educational apartheid by treating English-speaking pupils as "second-class" citizens.

John Finlayson, 60, the former head teacher of Portree primary on the Isle of Skye has waged a long campaign against the £10 million Bun-Sgoil Ghàidhlig Phort Rìgh - Portree Gaelic School - saying it will divide the community.

The bitter row boiled over this week as the new school officially opened its doors to 123 pupils who formerly attended the old primary school, where many of their former classmates remain.


Mr Finlayson, who was elected to the Highland Council last year, launched a broadside against the development, saying that the new school split Portree "for the first time, in terms of primary education".

In an article for the West Highland Free Press, the former teacher said that the English-speaking parents, who are in the majority, were demoralised by the resources being lavished on Gaelic education.

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"The questions being raised are not about the provision of Gaelic-medium education itself but about equity and fairness," Mr Finlayson said.

"To offer a new £10 million school to some children in a small community, but not to others who last month were taught in the same school, is totally unacceptable and insensitive."

Mr Finlayson, a Gaelic-speaker, deplored the failure of the local authority to consider a dual campus project that could have provided new facilities for Gaelic and English-speaking children.

He added: "The very least they should have done was to have made some tangible commitment to give the English-medium children and parents a similar new school, entirely disregarding the interests of the majority.

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"Whilst Gaelic-medium pupils and their parents are rightly excited about 21st century facilities and resources, English-medium pupils and parents are left feeling second class citizens who have been gravely overlooked in comparison to their peers who have chosen to be educated through the medium of Gaelic."


The Scottish government spends £23 million annually on Gaelic, including a £5.15 million award to Bòrd na Gàidhlig, to promote the language. BBC Alba, the Gaelic broadcaster, receives about £12 million in core funding.

"Very often young people who go through Gaelic medium education chose not to do examinations through the language," Mr Finlayson said.

"It's like a football team: it's all very well having youth policy, but what if it never gives you a player for the first team?"

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Highland Council have declined to comment on Mr Finlayson's comments, on the grounds that he is he an elected councillor.

Previously Shona MacLennan, CEO of the Bòrd na Gàidhlig, said his criticism had been "particularly disappointing".

She added: "Like other Gaelic schools established over the years, the new facility in Portree came about because of the local parental demand and a concerted campaign.

"The existing Gaelic schools in Inverness, Fort William, Edinburgh and Glasgow enjoy tremendous success and we are seeing growing demand.

"We fully expect the same to be true of Portree".