The SNP Government has been accused of appearing to break a manifesto commitment after the Education Secretary gave her blessing to a consultation on proposals for a “shared” Gaelic-English schools campus in Edinburgh.

Shirley-Anne Somerville has described city council blueprints as “excellent” and says they serve the community “very well”.

Her endorsement paves the way for a formal public discussion of the authority’s preferred option, which would see a Gaelic Medium Education (GME) secondary constructed alongside a replacement Liberton High on the latter’s existing site.

Current provision at James Gillespie’s High would be gradually discontinued.

The proposals are part of a wider vision for GME expansion that includes creating additional dedicated capacity in the primary sector, initially at schools in the west and south-east of the city.

However, they have sparked concern among critics who feel that co-locating Gaelic and English language schools may undermine the possibility of a fully immersive GME experience.

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Observers also worry that the campus proposal could leave families facing long travel times.

It was hoped by some that the SNP’s Holyrood election manifesto would lead to the council changing its plans.

The party document says there will be a “general presumption against co-locating GME schools with English medium schools” and adds: “We will support the development of additional GME primary schools in Edinburgh and the Lothians as an important step towards the creation of a standalone GME secondary school in central Edinburgh. A central location is necessary to ensure it is accessible from major public transport hubs to allow the new standalone school to serve the wider Lothian region.”

But the Education Secretary said: “Parents, children and the Gaelicspeaking community of Edinburgh are the critical voices in the decision around the future GME school, not the Scottish Government.

“That’s why the consultation that Edinburgh City plan is the right vehicle to drive the decision. That process is one that was set in statute by this government and we will do nothing to undermine it but even before that, it is clear that the council have presented an excellent option at Liberton High and one that serves the community very well.”

HeraldScotland: Shirley-Anne Somerville, the new Education Secretary, has indicated she is supportive of the council's proposals.Shirley-Anne Somerville, the new Education Secretary, has indicated she is supportive of the council's proposals.

Wilson McLeod, Professor of Gaelic at Edinburgh University, said: “It is very disappointing to see the Government appear to break a manifesto commitment after barely a week in office. It is also remarkable that the Government has seen fit to comment on the substantive merits of the Council’s proposal even before consultation has begun.

“This political game-playing will leave many parents confused and frustrated and may do lasting damage to the development of Gaelic education in Edinburgh.”

A spokeswoman for Comann nam Pàrant (Dùn Èideann & Lodainn), which offers advice and support on GME to parents, said: “In their manifesto, the SNP pledged that, in order to ensure that the GME experience is truly immersive, they would have a general presumption against co-locating GME schools with English medium schools. They also stated that a central location is necessary to ensure it is accessible from major public transport hubs to allow the new standalone school to serve the wider Lothian region.

“We are keen to understand how the co-located Liberton option aligns with the SNP’s pledge of a standalone central school.”

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A report on the proposals is due to be considered by Edinburgh Council’s Education, Children and Families committee on Friday.

Councillor Ian Perry, Convener, said: “It’s welcome to see the Scottish Government describe the proposal for the new GME school on the Liberton site as an excellent option and one that serves the community very well as we’re committed to expanding high-quality secondary GME in an immersive environment.

“We’ve been discussing with the GME school communities about the different options for enhancing provision in the city and as a result of the informal statutory consultation held last year we now have a clear strategic growth plan going forward. This will see a dedicated GME high school being built, reduce the rising rolls pressure on James Gillespie’s High School and grow our GME primary provision in the city.

“If our proposals are approved on Friday then we would start the statutory consultation in August which will mean the new school will welcome its first pupils in August 2025.”

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Councillor Alison Dickie, Gaelic Champion and Vice Convener, added: “The endorsement from the Scottish Government for a new GME high school on the Liberton site is really positive. This means there would be two new dedicated schools next to each other, and access to the educational breadth our young people need in their journey towards full immersion to which we are committed. 

“In addition to the new high school our statutory consultation plans includes growing GME primary provision in settings at Carrick Knowe and Prestonfield primary schools in the west and south east of the city as we continue to deliver and expand on our fundamental principles of high quality teaching and an immersive education.  

“We have worked collaboratively with parents, the wider Gaelic community and partners, such as the Scottish Government, to get to this point of a statutory consultation. It’s now a time for further listening and importantly, reaching out to the voices who have not yet been heard - these are hugely exciting times for Gaelic Medium Education in Scotland’s capital city.”