The General Teaching Council for Scotland

Scotland’s National Centre for Languages reviews where we are with Gaelic language learning in Scotland

Learning languages can have cognitive benefits for learners of all ages

Research by Bilingualism Matters at the University of Edinburgh explains that children exposed to different languages have a better awareness of other people’s perspectives; tend to be better than monolinguals at multitasking; are often more precocious readers; and generally find it easier to learn other languages. More recent research suggests that learning another language may have benefits in later life, delaying the onset of dementia symptoms and slowing cognitive aging.

Given the benefits of pluri-lingualism, demand for Gaelic Medium Education (GME) is increasing.  Glasgow Gaelic School opened in 2006 with only 33 pupils.  Now it has 343.  Education Scotland Parentzone (see states that:
“Gaelic Medium Education is available in 14 out of 32 Scottish local authorities … It is available in about 60 primary schools and their associated secondaries, including dedicated Gaelic Medium schools. An increasing number of early learning and childcare centres, secondary schools and further education centres also provide learning through the medium of Gaelic.”

On an encouraging note, SCILT’s annual Language Trends published in November 2018 (see reported some good news for language learning.  Uptake in Modern Languages at Higher is above 2012 levels, with French and Spanish dominant. Entries in Chinese languages showed an upward trend. 

Similarly, entries at Advanced Higher are also above those in 2012. SCILT’s Director, Fhiona Mackay, commented in an article in TESS last August that the picture for language learning across the country was positive, and that, thanks to the 1+2 policy, more children than ever before are learning languages in the primary school.

Having said that, Higher entries in Gaelic (Learners) have been on a downward trend. When compared with 2012, there has been a 32 per cent drop. Entries in Gaelic (Learners) at Advanced Higher dropped significantly in 2017. Below Higher, entries in 2018 are half what they were in 2012.

Another even more pressing concern is the drop off in entries for National Qualifications in Gàidhlig, the Gaelic Medium Education (GME) certificate. Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, Scotland’s National Gaelic College, has voiced concerns about a significant fall in their own student intake in recent years. 

This worrying trend must be addressed within the wider context of language learning in Scotland.  SCILT’s Gaelic Professional Development Officer, Eoghan Stewart, reports that whilst schools are seeing GME numbers increase in the Broad General Education, many are losing pupils from GME at a significant rate in the senior phase. Those schools that are bucking this tend are flourishing through multi-age groups, interdisciplinary learning and creative timetabling. Stewart argues that those who make the decisions regarding timetabling should consider the demands and needs particular to GME. He suggests that high-quality professional learning and opportunities for collegiate conversations are key to supporting those with responsibility for timetabling. In this way, school leadership teams could develop an enhanced understanding of the statutory framework and pedagogical environment in which GME operates.


SCILT is the national centre for languages, supporting a wealth of language learning and diversity across Scotland’s communities.