John Swinney described the new Gaelic school in Portree as “what the language deserved” at the official opening yesterday.
The Deputy First Minister – and cabinet secretary for education – declared Bun-Sgoil Ghaidhlig Phort Righ officially open.
Mr Swinney said: “It is a poignant day for the Gaelic school and for Skye and I am delighted the partnership between the Highland Council and the Scottish Government has enabled the establishment of this new school.
“It is an outstanding 21st century learning environment for the young people and that is what they deserve and its what the language deserves as well.”
Friends and family of the school gathered to mark the momentous occasion with campaigning on the island for a school which would teach solely through the medium of Gaelic having taken place for near 10 years.
The school’s head teacher Flora Guidi has taught Gaelic education since as far back as 1988, where only nine pupils were enrolled in Gaelic medium at Portree Primary School. Since then the uptake in parents wishing for children to learn through the language has increased, and yesterday seen 160 pupils welcomed to the facility from nursery age through to primary seven.
Mrs Guidi said: “As a school staff we got together on the first day and decided what we thought a Gaelic Medium School meant for us so all the staff, all speak Gaelic to each other all the time. If a visitor comes we will speak English to them but the conversation in the staffroom is still Gaelic so we welcome visitors but we carry on the language of the school.
“We need a Gaelic school to create a Gaelic environment, similar to what they do in Sabhal Mor, we use Gaelic in all contexts of the school and we are not 100% there yet, but we will get there.
“It was a very smooth transition because we have had a lot of support. The staff have been determined to make this work and that has really helped. Other groups, we have had emails both locally, nationally and internationally, we have had support from lots different quarters’ offering help and that has been much appreciated.
“We want to create a Gaelic ethos and identity and that is a new challenge but staff and parents have been great.”
Mr Swinney added: “The government has put in place a Gaelic capital fund, which we will use to support the further development of opportunities in Gaelic medium education around the country.
“We want to take that forward and work with local authorities to support their propositions that come forward because fundamentally these must be locally generated proposals which emerge and I look forward to doing that in the years to come.”
Bun Sgoil Ghaidhlig Phort Righ is the third dedicated Gaelic primary school in the Highlands and the sixth nationally.
The construction of the purpose built Gaelic school is part of a £15million capital investment into the area, which included the refurbishment of the former Elgin Hostel nearby to Portree High School, which now serves as residence for travelling pupils to the secondary school.
The Scottish Government had pledged £4.75million to the project during its construction phase.
The first Gaelic medium education unit was delivered on the island in 1985 at Portree Primary School.