Tag Archives: Gaelic school

GME and Additional Support Needs – Oil & Water

8 Oct

Olive oil in water, demonstrating a two-phase ...We’ve known for years now that the Monster finds some things more challenging but it was not until Easter this year, when he was 4, that he was finally given the diagnosis of autism.  Actually, what they said to us was that they were “giving him a diagnosis of autism but that we would recognise him most in what we read about Asperger’s Syndrome.”  Wouldn’t it have been simpler and less confusing to say he has Asperger’s Syndrome?  Although we we told in April, we had spent 15 months attending a variety of appointments as part of his diagnosis and we had been recognising signs in the months before that, so when we were picking a school for our son we had this very much in our minds as well.

Though I’m not teaching at the moment, I am a primary school teacher, and at a party with some teaching friends, who work in the same area as the Gaelic school, I was asked which school I was thinking of for the Monster.  They were aware of our suspicions that the Monster had additional support needs and when they heard that we were considering the Glasgow Gaelic School for him each was quick to advise us against it.  Although I didn’t want to hear what they were saying, I knew they were only talking from a place of caring and concern, and I’d have been foolish to disregard it out of hand.  It wasn’t just that they couldn’t see the point in learning Gaelic because that is something I come across regularly, and something for which I have plenty of research to support my arguments.  They had also worked with children who had been attending the Gaelic school but had been removed and were now in their school.  In their experience, the Glasgow Gaelic School were simply not equipped to deal with additional support needs.

We talked and thought about this long and hard.  I researched as much as it was possible for me to research and, in the end, we decided to go with our heart and send him.  We felt that the fact that the school teaches through the medium of Gaelic doesn’t make the staff less likely to have an awareness of autism spectrum disorders or less likely to be capable of dealing with it.  He had as much chance of finding good staff there who cared enough to help him integrate into their classroom as he did in his local school, and the school has the same obligations to meet the needs of each of their pupils as every other school in Scotland.  We also felt it was possible that if my friends’ only experience of the Gaelic School came from a couple of parents who had chosen to remove their children then their view may be biased – they had not had enough chance to balance their opinion by speaking with parents who were pleased with the education their children were receiving.

The Monster has now been in the school for a whole term (I know!  Where does time go!?).  He still has a long way to go but already in that short space of time I have seen enough to feel glad that we did follow our hearts.  In terms of identifying and working with his specific additional support needs the school have worked very hard.

  • They came out to visit the Monster in his main (English speaking) nursery, liaised with his key worker and sent him home with a picture of his new teacher so he could familiarise himself with it over the summer.
  • They sent out a wee letter from his primary 3 buddy which included a photo so we were able to use his name and get him ready in the run up to school – this wasn’t something special they did for the Monster, it’s something they did for all the new primary 1s.
  • They also took on board what we, as his parents, had to say about our son and his needs.

Today we had a joint support team meeting with the learning support co-ordinator, the depute head teacher, his class teacher and his new educational psychologist.  It was really heartening to hear the steps that have been taken to support our son – he hasn’t just been dropped into class, expected to get on with it and then labelled a “bad boy,” which was our fear before he started school.  The teacher is enthusiastic and her strategies make sense.  More importantly, where there is a perceived gap in her knowledge the school are already filling them – there has recently been CPD on the use of social stories which should be of great benefit to my son.

I should be clear though that my son doesn’t have a language delay or a difficulty with language acquisition.  He may be a bit pedantic but this does not stop him from understanding or communicating in either language.  As his teacher confirmed today he is a wee sponge for language and is determined to know and learn Gaelic.  Whilst having language based support needs shouldn’t stop you from considering (or choosing) the Glasgow Gaelic School for your family you should think about whether sending them may end up being an additional hurdle placed in front of your child.  If they are going to struggle to acquire just one language (English), is it fair to ask them to acquire two?  That is not to say that I don’t think that the school wouldn’t do their utmost to support your child, it’s just something for you to think about should it apply to you.

When I think back to a year ago as we sat here wondering whether we were making the right decision to go with the Glasgow Gaelic School, I’m pleased to say that, as it stands today, I feel that we did.  Each family has to make up its own mind based on their own situation, but what I can tell each of you is that Gaelic Medium Education and Additional Support Needs are not like oil and water – they can and do mix successfully.


Do you have to learn Gaelic if your children are in GME?

19 Mar

At the recent Gaelic school facilitation day, I was struck by the idea that some people aren’t sure if learning Gaelic is a necessary part of sending your child to a GME school.  I suppose it struck me as unusual because I had never really pondered the question.  I’m sending my children to a Gaelic school so I want to learn the language too.  Whether it’s necessary or not to learn it had never really crossed my mind.

Perhaps the first thing to consider is the reason for choosing a Gaelic Medium Education for your children.  There are so many benefits including being bilingual, supporting a minority language – our minority language – and also the possibility that your local Gaelic school/unit has an excellent reputation.  But there are also cons to weigh up – if your child has additional support needs will they be met appropriately, will you cope with the homework, will the other children in the class stay so far away that it’s not easy for them to meet up out of school?  Certainly, deciding on the Gaelic school was a big decision for us but as part of that decision making process we had to consider our ability to prioritise the time to learn a new language.

In order to give my children the best support at school my husband and I want to be able to understand at least the basics of the work they’re doing.  We accept that it’s unlikely that we will ever achieve the fluency that our children will have, but it would be great to be able to share their reading books and school work with them, and follow their school concerts or assemblies.  For that to happen, we need to apply a little elbow grease.

However, learning a new language is easier said than done.  The time we can commit to it is limited because my husband works during the day whilst I care for the children, and then this is reversed three nights a week when I go out to work.  Ùlpan courses sound really effective but neither of us can go out twice a week for them, and the same applies to local beginners classes that I have found listed online.  Fortunately for us, I have begun An Cùrsa Inntrigidh, the course with a weekly phone tutorial and, though it is early days, so far it seems to be really good.  We all listen to the course work CDs in the car, I don’t need to leave the house for tutorials, and it helps to reinforce what we are learning as a family at the Saturday Gaelic Club.  Could I hold my own in a conversation with a native speaker?  No.  Not yet, anyway.  But it’s a start.

Of course, very few of these courses are free, and when finances are tight (as they are for us) the cost of courses is a major consideration.  I’m fortunate that I qualify for ILA funding but I have no idea how I’m going to pay for next term, which starts after the summer.  I’m sure we’re not the only family with those concerns, and this is just the tip of the iceberg – there are a number of issues that each family needs to address in order to start learning Gaelic.  So if your family is facing these or other/more obstacles, is it fair to be judged for choosing Gaelic medium education but not Gaelic family learning?

Maybe we need to turn this issue on its head.  What does deciding not to learn Gaelic mean?  Will it mean, for instance, that homework, when not bilingual, becomes harder and harder to support them with?  Of course, homework should be a consolidation of what they’ve already learned but children often forget what they were asked to do, or don’t understand how something is worded in English, never mind Gaelic.  However, with a good support network of other parents I’m told that this is not an insurmountable challenge.  In fact, I believe there’s even a live homework help at night on www.gaelic4parents.com and I suppose we could see it as an extra opportunity to really share our children’s learning with them.  Every cloud has a silver lining, and all that.

For me, I wonder what it would suggest to my children if I didn’t make the effort.  How do I answer them if they ask me why it is important that they learn a new language and explore our heritage, but not me?  If I can put my hand on my heart and say that I have made an effort to learn, and am continuing to, is that a sufficient response, because surely there cannot be an expectation that as adult learners without the benefit of immersion that we must learn Gaelic to fluency in order to have our children qualify for GME?  Certainly, the school has never made me feel that it is a requirement.

At the end of the day, I don’t believe there’s a right or wrong answer to this question that will fit everyone.  I’m sure that the school prefer families to learn Gaelic but they are well equipped to deal with supporting those families who, for whatever reason, are not in a position to do so.  Each family must make a decision based on their own circumstances and no one should be judged for whatever their decision may be.  For us, who knows what the future holds, but we have started out learning Gaelic as a family and I hope that that continues.