Gaelic education since 1872

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The Education (Scotland) Act 1872 – which established a national system of elementary school education in Scotland – did not specify the language in which literacy skills should be developed. The assumption was that this should be English. The lack of mention of Gaelic has been perceived by many subsequent writers to be an instance of institutional bias against Gaelic, but others present the linguistic provisions in the Act in terms of pupils’ geographical destination, rather than pupils’ home community, and emphasise that the main purpose of education in Highland regions was to prepare pupils for migration to English-speaking industrialised areas of lowland Scotland and to countries such as America and Australia for employment. The implementation of the Act in Gaelic-speaking areas thus raised key questions regarding the purposes of schooling, the relationship between the school and the local community, and best practice in second language acquisition – sociological, cultural and linguistic questions that have continued to mark the debates regarding the use of Gaelic in education since 1872. This chapter outlines developments in Gaelic in education provision from 1872 to the present and explores the rationales underpinning such developments. The chapter is divided into two sections: (i) 1872-1980 and (ii) 1980-2013. Provision in the first period was intended for Gaelic-speaking pupils in Gaelic-speaking areas, whilst the second period saw the emergence of provision for both first and second language speakers of Gaelic across Scotland.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Edinburgh History of Education in Scotland
EditorsMark Freeman, Robert Anderson, Lindsay Paterson
Place of PublicationEdinburgh
PublisherEdinburgh University Press
Number of pages22
ISBN (Electronic)9780748679171, 9780748679164
ISBN (Print)9780748679157
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2015


  • Gaelic
  • language maintenance
  • Scotland
  • education
  • child centred


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