Gaelic v Catholic education

30 Jan

Twice in the last two weeks I’ve come across the same issue surrounding the Glasgow Gaelic School and it’s an issue that has nothing to do with the pros and cons of immersion, whether Gaelic is useful or not, and whether the school is well enough equipped to deal with children with additional support needs.  The issue that has cropped up recently has been about religion – specifically, that the Gaelic school isn’t a Catholic school.

I’m proudly Church of Scotland (though I don’t profess to be an expert) so I suppose considering denominational schools has never been high on my list of priorities.  To me, a good school is one which covers a broad curriculum, covering religious and moral education as a part of that, using a wide variety of engaging strategies.  Being exposed to the culture, ethics and religious teachings of a variety of cultures – especially when we live in a multicultural society – is, to me, a good thing.  But then, I have grown up in non-denominational schools so it’s what I know.  Whilst I may have chosen to send my children to a school where the language of the classroom won’t be English as it was for me, the content of the curriculum is broadly speaking the same (there are small curricular differences in every school) so I will still have a shared experience with my children.  But why should I assume that just because I prefer a non-denominational education that every other parent will feel the same?

So how do the families I have spoken with this week feel?

One is a family with two children, both slightly younger than mine.  The mother and I are friends, and so she has followed my research and experiences with interest.  When she raised the option of Gaelic medium education with her family they were very positive about it, but the first question – as she knew it would be – was, “but what about their religious education?”  And this is a large part of her reserves about going down this route.  She knows that she can take her children to church and still provide that religious instruction for them, but her experiences of school will be different, the preparation for their first communion in primary four will be different (and I’m sure there are many other aspects that she must consider in relation to this too, these were simply the first things she mentioned to me).  Choosing to send her children there has added implications for her, if you like.

Other families have found that the decision to go for GME hasn’t been an easy one, though I suppose it rarely is.  When local schools are good, it can be hard to break from “the norm” especially when the question of religious education complicates matters. The lack of Catholic teaching at the Gaelic school becomes a consideration but, as several mothers said to me, the responsibility of their child’s religious education is their own, and one pointed out that lately, in her experience, the children do not go through their first communion as a class but at their local parish church so perhaps there isn’t the same “need” to send your child to a Catholic school.

The debate surrounding faith schools is one that can bring with it strong feelings, and I’m not looking to get bogged down in complex arguments, but I do wonder how other parents have handled this issue and whether there are parents out there who would have chosen GME but for the lack of Catholic instruction in the school.

Do we dare to dream that GME will one day be so mainstream that the powers that be would even consider opening a Catholic Gaelic school – not because I feel we need denominational education (because to be honest, I don’t) but because it means that there is a significant, accepted demand for Gaelic?

We don’t know what the future holds and in the meantime each family must make their own decision.  For me, I’m glad we have started down this path and I look forward to all the challenges, opportunities and adventures to come.


7 Responses to “Gaelic v Catholic education”

  1. alasdairmaccaluim January 31, 2012 at 3:47 pm #

    A very interesting and fair post on a very interesting subject.

    My wee girl is in P2 at Sgoil Ghàidhlig Ghlaschu and I know that a lot of her friends are Catholic and that provision is made for them.

    I’ve sometimes come across another issue around religion in GME. There are so many stereotypes out there of Gaelic speakers all being Free Church or Free Presbyterian Church that I’ve met people who have assumed that rather than being non-denominational schools that they are in fact Free Church schools!

    I always have to politely explain that this is not in fact the case and that the Gaelic community is very socially diverse in terms of religion and all other things!

    In fact, as a fluent adult learner of Gaelic, most of my Gaelic speaking friends are agnostic or atheist. They’d certainly not have sent their children to a free church school!

    (For what it’s worth, I’m lapsed Church of Scotland and wouldn’t say that I have any religion.)

    Keep up the good work,


    • gaelicmediummum January 31, 2012 at 5:29 pm #

      Thank you! Part of me wants to dive in and ask lots of questions of you, but I think I’ll settle with 2. Does your daughter enjoy the school, and how did you achieve fluency as an adult learner?

      • alasdairmaccaluim January 31, 2012 at 9:23 pm #

        My daughter does enjoy the school. I’ve always spoken to her in Gaelic and so she could already understand Gaelic before she went to school.

        I did Gaelic as a subject at university for one year and went to Sabhal Mòr Ostaig for a year once I’d finished. I think the most important factor in becoming fluent as an adult is to have the confidence to speak Gaelic – no matter how little you have and even if it is really bad Gaelic – until you become fluent. It worked for me anyway!

      • gaelicmediummum January 31, 2012 at 11:43 pm #

        I totally agree. I made a tiny step in that direction today – I told my son’s nursery teacher I’m learning but that I lack the confidence to initiate conversation. I’m not sure she understood that I need her to start the conversation, and I couldn’t bring myself to go that far, but it’s a start… I’d love to go up to Sabhal Mòr Ostaig but with two small children it’s just not an option. I’ll just need to keep plugging away.

  2. Elaine Michie February 2, 2012 at 11:18 am #


    Like yourself I struggled to go to SMO so started the Glasgow Gaelic family week which had ran for the last three years and is running this year the week of 23rd July. It is £50 per adult and £10 per child. If you are interested let me know.

    • gaelicmediummum February 2, 2012 at 1:11 pm #

      Hi, I’ve heard of it and think it sounds great. I know we’re on holiday in July so I’d need to check when that is, and it may mean that we just can’t afford it, but it is a fabulous resource. Could you put up some details about what happens on the course? Even if I can’t make it, someone else may be really interested. Thanks!


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