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Enrolment week for the new intake of Primary 1 pupils is usually a busy one, with school offices preparing enrolment packs, appointments being made for parents to visit their local schools, and plenty of in-person interaction between parents and staff.

With the continuation of the coronavirus pandemic and a third national lockdown, however, 2021’s Enrolment period looks quite different.

Enrolment for 2021 is now being done entirely online, thanks to COVID-19 restrictions and the fact that schools are currently closed to parents. The new online enrolment form went live on 1st February, and requests all the same information from parents that would normally be gathered via paper.

This new process marks the second year of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar’s Gaelic First Policy, which automatically enrols all incoming Primary 1 pupils in Gaelic Medium Education, unless their parents request otherwise. Almost 60 per cent of pupils were enrolled in Gaelic Medium Education during the last school session, and the message this year is one of reassurance to parents that Gaelic Medium Education remains a positive option for their children despite the ongoing COVID-19 restrictions.

“We’re continuing to encourage parents to be thinking about Gaelic Medium Education,” says Trish Macleod, Executive Head Teacher of Rural Lewis Schools, who is based at Sgoil nan Loch. “Schools are providing as much of an immersion experience as possible with the restrictions they have, and Gaelic bubbles are being maintained within schools.”

“Post-lockdown, when we came back to school last August, the emphasis was on listening, talking, and Gaelic immersion, and all the Gaelic staff across schools were accounting for any language that was missed,” adds Kathleen Macleod, Executive Head Teacher of Broadbay Schools, at Sgoil an Rubha. “They were very conscious of that, and of making every effort to ensure pupils had a rich learning experience in Gaelic, and as much exposure to Gaelic as possible. In this situation we’re in now, we’re aspiring to continue with that immersion focus and have those daily contacts.”

With school buildings currently closed to most pupils until mid-February, Gaelic Medium Education teachers are working hard to ensure their pupils in the immersion phase (from nursery through early primary) are listening and speaking in Gaelic on a daily basis, whether through live VScene videos or phone calls with teachers. Trish notes as an example that one teacher has been recording her lessons for pupils to watch in the mornings, then connecting with them in the afternoon for conversations, while another school with a smaller school roll is phoning their pupils at home. “There’s a mix of things going on, but there’s a big attempt by all staff to provide as much Gaelic input as possible and to support parents.”

e-Sgoil, the Comharle’s remote learning service, is offering “Lockdown Live” online sessions during the current restrictions, which includes “Gàidhlig Bheó” lessons for Gaelic Medium and Gaelic Learner pupils from Primary 2 – S6. Schools are also working with a range of Gaelic partner agencies, such as Comunn na Gàidhlig, Gaelic for Parents, and Storlann to make sure pupils and parents have access to as many learning resources as possible. And for those pupils who are attending the School Hubs – which are open for vulnerable children and the children of key workers – Gaelic-speaking staff are in attendance for Gaelic Medium Education pupils, and social distancing “Gaelic bubbles” between class pupils are also being maintained.

The majority of parents of Gaelic Medium Education pupils don’t speak Gaelic, and there is reassurance for them that whether their child is already in Gaelic Medium Education, or will be enrolled for the next session, there are still multiple ways for them to support their child’s education at home. Any exposure to the language is positive, say Kathleen and Trish, from Gaelic cartoons on BBC Alba to listening to Gaelic programmes on the radio. Parents also shouldn’t worry about “confusing” their children by reading to them in English, for example, as learning literacy skills in either their first or second languages will be beneficial and transferable.

Research shared with schools by Comunn na Gàidhlig shows that being bilingual can help children “become more aware of language, syntax, and grammar,” which is then beneficial to literacy, and that bilingual children perform as well as – and sometimes better – than their monolingual peers do academically. There are also career advantages for Gaelic pupils later in life, particularly in the Western Isles and across Scotland, with Gaelic careers in the likes of cultural organisations, the media, and sports industries. “There are so many benefits to being bilingual,” says Trish. “The language, heritage, and culture of the community is supported when you choose Gaelic Medium, and you know the support is there for you as well.”

When it comes to this year’s enrolment, parents are being advised to complete the online forms as soon as they can, and to contact their local school if they have any questions. And as Kathleen says, “with the Gaelic First policy, everybody is striving for Gaelic and supporting the parents and staff as much as we can.”

Gaelic First

In all Early Learning, nursery and school enrolment, the Comhairle operates a Gaelic First Policy. This means that the default language stream for enrolment will be Gaelic Medium unless the choice is made during the enrolment process to opt for English Medium.

Early Learning & Childcare (ELC) Enrolment

Enrolment is now open for eligible children to enter nursery for children who:

  • are 4 years of age and are not currently registered with a nursery
  • will be 3 years of age between 1 March 2021 and 28 February 2022
  • will be 2 years of age between 1 March 2021 and 28 February 2022 and whose parent(s)/carer(s) are in receipt of certain qualifying benefits.

Eligibility for early learning and childcare throughout the year is as follows:

  • From the Autumn Term (Aug–Dec): children born between 1 March and 31 August
  • From the Spring Term (Jan–March): children born between 1 September and 31 December
  • From the Summer Term (April– une): children born between 1 January and 28 Februar 

All eligible children will have the choice of a term-time place of up to 30 funded hours per week (for 38 weeks of the year) or a full-year place of up to 22.5 funded hours per week (for 50 weeks of the year)

Parents were invited to make contact with their chosen nursery from Monday 25th January and they will advise about completion of the enrolment process.

P1 Enrolment

For 2021, P1 enrolment moves online due to the continued Covid-19 restrictions that mean parents cannot visit or enter schools. An online enrolment form has been made available on the Comhairle website that will gather all the same information as the regular paper form and the Comhairle hopes that parents find this an easier and more convenient way to complete enrolment.

Children that will be four years of age by 28th February 2021 are eligible to enrol into P1 starting in August 2021.

There are a number of important points to note in relation to online P1 enrolment:

  • The online form is available from Monday 1stFebruary and parents should complete enrolment as soon as possible
  • The details provided must exactly match that recorded on the child’s birth certificate, specifically the child’s name, date of birth and details of parents
  • Birth certificates and identity will be checked by school staff on the first day of attendance in August
  • Where a parent or carer wishes to enrol in a school other than their catchment school, a placing request must be completed. The form to do this is included on the Comhairle website enrolment page.
  • If any parent is having difficulty with completion of the online form or require support, please contact your intended school office and they will be able to either provide a paper copy of the form or help you to complete the online version.
  • Any queries and questions about enrolment should be directed the school office where parents intend to enrol their child.

The online P1 enrolment form can be accessed here: https://www.cne-siar.gov.uk/schools/primary-enrolment

S1 Enrolmen

Each of our secondary schools will be making local arrangements with their associated primary schools to complete enrolment for S1 and primary schools will be relaying this information directly to P7 parents.