Brand new start for Gaelic school in Edinburgh and positive changes proposed to Scottish education system for an early introduction to languages.

THE corridors are empty, the classrooms bare and the tables in the canteen are folded.

It could be any school during the summer holidays – if not for the newness of it all. Nothing has been touched or smudged by a thousand tiny figures.

It’s brand new inside. And, uniquely, when classes commence here next week, none of the teachers, the pupils or the staff will speak a word of English.

Parkside Primary, or as its pupils will know it, Bun-sgoil Taobh na Pairc, is the Capital’s new Gaelic school.

And yesterday – as staff readied themselves to receive their first pupils – the News was given a first exclusive sneak peek inside.

Inspecting the new white boards and the school signs – all in Gaelic, naturally – headteacher Anne MacPhail can’t wait to get started.

However the 50-year-old lifelong speaker, who has lived in Edinburgh for more than 20 years, said running a school entirely in native Scots presents some unique challenges.

“The purpose of hiring janitors and canteen staff who speak Gaelic is to better achieve an ‘immersion’ in the language for the children,” she said of a recruitment policy that has seen Gaelic speakers hired for all positions where possible.

“It really helps them learn. The children learn without realising they’re learning.”

The former Bonnington Road Primary school has been fully converted – with £3.53 million of taxpayers’ money.

The previous state-run Gaelic school at Tollcross became overcrowded and it was announced last year that the derelict remains of Bonnington – which closed in 2008 – were to be refurbished.

And what a transformation.

The inside is light, bright and airy – with only the unopened packs of pencils and learning posters in the hard-to-pronounce language a sign of things to come.

Pupils in waiting Niamh O’Hara, six, and Caitlin Wright, eight, there themselves for a quick look inside, love it.

“I can’t wait to be here,” Niamh tells us with Caitlin adding: “It’s so exciting.”

The school will teach the standard primary “curriculum for excellence” like all Edinburgh’s state schools, but will teach it entirely in Gaelic. Even English lessons at the school will be taught in Gaelic.

The opening follows calls for every schoolchild in the country to be taught the language.

Education Scotland, the government agency responsible for developing the school curriculum, said Gaelic should be put at the centre of an ambitious plan to teach children two foreign languages at primary school.

The Scottish Government said the new approach to language learning would see pupils introduced to a second language in P1, and a third no later than P5.

And – while critics fear this could be seen as a controversial move ahead of a referendum on independence – many believe more needs to be done to keep the language alive.

Mum Jennifer Gilmour is a parent whose children currently attend Tollcross but will transfer to the new building next week. She explained why places at the school were so desirable.

“Being bilingual helps children with all aspects of learning, not just language,” she said.

“Most of the parents with children here that I know don’t speak Gaelic, but helping their child become bilingual is something that appealed to them.

“There are classes in Gaelic to help parents, and some are involved with this school.”

Controversy was sparked last year when it was revealed teachers were being given year-long sabbaticals on a full salary to learn Gaelic in order to better teach children, all at the taxpayers’ expense. The cost of refurbishing the school has also been a concern in some quarters.

Yet, despite the criticism, and an overall decline in Gaelic speaking in Scotland, places at the school will be hotly contested. This year’s P1 intake roll is an impressive 53 pupils.

Mum Abigail Burnyeat from Bonnington is in no doubt why it’s proven so popular. She said: “Keeping the Gaelic language alive by teaching it to children is an important way of preserving heritage, and keeping children interested in Scottish history and identity.”

Head Ms MacPhail agrees that tradition is important – but says the school will be forging links across the Capital and Scotland to make it a modern day success story.

She added: “[We’ll] connect the children with their heritage directly. We have links with a school in the Isle of Skye, and the children filter into James Gillespie’s High School, which has Gaelic programs and ensures that the children can continue to learn the language.

“We work within the curriculum for excellence which is much more flexible in terms of learning, the children have a greater input and they seem to enjoy their learning more.”

“We are also really close to the Water of Leith and the park and that allows the teachers to go out into those spaces easily and use them.

“We teach in Gaelic but we encourage our teachers to use other methods as well to make learning as engaging and successful as possible.”

Language lessons for the new term

With their term just about to begin, we looked out some useful phrases to help the kids through their first week:

1.“Excuse me miss, I need to go to the toilet.” – “Gabh mo leisgeul, feumaidh mi a dhol dhan taigh-bheag.”

2. “Sorry, the dog ate my homework.” – “Dh’ ith an cù m’obair dachaigh.”

3. “Present!” – “An seo!”

4. “I’ve forgotten my PE kit.” – “Dhìochuimhnich mi an stuth spòrs agam.”

5. “I’ve left my lunch money at home.” – “Dh’ fhàg mi m’ airgead dìnnear aig an taigh.”

Tús luath leath na hoibre!