In brief

Scotland: Gaelic to become default language for pupils starting primary education in Western Isles

Parents wishing English-medium schooling must explicitly state so from now on

Stornoway, main town in the Western Isles.
Stornoway, main town in the Western Isles. Author: Manfred Lentz @ Flickr
Children starting first grade of primary school from 2020-2021 in Scotland’s Western Isles will be enrolled by default in the Gaelic-medium education system unless parents explicitly opt out and choose the English-medium system instead. Until now, it was the other way round: children were enrolled by default in the English-medium system, and it was the parents who needed to make their preference for the Gaelic-medium system explicit.

The decision has been taken by the Western Isles Council, which runs the archipelago’s schools. Out of 32 councils into which Scotland is divided, the Western Isles have the highest share of Gaelic speakers (52%).

Gaelic-medium education is available in all schools in the Western Isles as well as in a handful of other schools in the rest of Scotland. Under that system, during the early years of primary school all classes are taught in Gaelic. Later on, English is progressively introduced. The aim is for the children, by the end of their schooling, to be proficient in both languages.

In a Twitter thread, the Gaelic Board (Bòrd na Gàidhlig) welcomed the decision and recalled that research shows that children following Gaelic-medium education perform in a similar way or better —in all subjects including English— than those who are not taught through the medium of that Celtic language in Scotland.