Last Updated: Thursday, June 09, 2022

Family learning at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig UHI

What is this?

This exemplar describes an approach to engaging families in learning using the Summer Short Courses programme at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, the National Centre for Gaelic Language and Culture and partner college in the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI). The College's family learning weeks are developed and supported through effective partnership working with community learning and local authorities.

Who is this for?

Practitioners and multi-agency partners who work with children and families.

​Explore this exemplar

What was done

Gaelic Family Learning Week (GFLW)

elc26-sabhal-mor-activities.jpgA highlight of the Summer Short Courses programme at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, the National Centre for Gaelic Language and Culture, is the annual family learning week. Sabhal Mòr Ostaig is located in the south end of Skye and has been delivering family learning provision for over 12 years. These week-long courses have been developed in partnership with the Community Learning and Development Review Group for Gaelic and The Highland Council, with support also from other Scottish councils that offer Gaelic-medium education (GME).

The family learning classes and activities are based mainly at the college, and the facilities at the neighbouring primary school, Bun-sgoil Shlèite (Sleat Primary School), are used for some of the children’s sporting activities. The family learning events are open to families with children being educated through the medium of Gaelic, and offer the opportunity for participants to learn and play in a Gaelic-speaking environment. Parents have the opportunity to attend one of the college’s week-long language courses while their children take part in a wide range of sports, arts and other activities (for example, archery and kayaking) all delivered through the medium of Gaelic. Younger children may attend Fàs Mòr, the Gaelic-medium childcare facility based at the College, where they have the opportunity to engage in play activities for the week.

Normally, over 120 adults and children attend each event, with most participants coming from the Highlands and Islands and the Scotland's central belt. In the last couple of years, demand for places has increased greatly, and this has led to a selection process being put in place. Adult classes are offered at five different levels of language competence and there is strong positive feedback on how tutors tailor the week’s activities to meet the needs of students. As with the college’s other short courses, there is a programme of evening events for attendees. This includes Gaelic conversation and singing classes, Gaelic programmes and films, indoor shinty, badminton and zumba. Emphasis is placed on participation and active learning, providing opportunities to build positive relationships and experiences through the Gaelic language and culture.

Why was it done?

The National Gaelic Language Plan 2012/2017 is the principal policy document for Gaelic and indicates how the Scottish Government, local authorities, public bodies and Bòrd na Gàidhlig, along with others, take forward the support of Gaelic. This family learning project meets a strategic priority in the Gaelic Plan to provide 'a wide range of opportunities for young people in both Gaelic-medium education and Gaelic-learner education to engage in activities that enhance their Gaelic skills through greater use'.   

One of the performance indicators in 'Strenthening the Highlands: The Programme of The Highland Council' is an increase in the percentage of people in the Highlands describing themselves as 'well-disposed towards Gaelic’. Strengthening the Highlands (in 'What we will do for children and families') also contains a commitment to 'continue to develop Gaelic-medium education in pre-school and primary schools, expand Gaelic-medium education in the secondary sector and increase the number of Gaelic learners in our schools'.

The college and partners hoped to:

  • support parents of children who attend GME in gaining confidence in their use of Gaelic
  • strengthen the place of Gaelic in the home and community for all participants
  • provide young people with the opportunity of engaging in social and recreational events through the medium of Gaelic
  • strengthen the learning and language usage among young people.

What was the impact?

Feedback from the Sabhal Mòr Ostaig short courses demonstrates that there is great enthusiasm about the benefits of being 'involved in a positive, progressive, friendly, stimulating cultural environment'. On the Family Learning Week, participants have the opportunity to interact with other families from throughout Scotland who are interested in developing their own and their children’s language skills and interests.

Other positive outcomes of this project:

  • It has helped children to become successful, motivated learners.
  • It has strengthened the place of Gaelic in the home and communities.
  • Young people have had opportunities to engage in social and recreational events through the medium of Gaelic.
  • Parents report greater confidence in their children.
  • There has been a significant increase in the number of families engaging in these events.
  • Parents of children who attend GME gain confidence in using Gaelic.
  • Positive relationships have been built between families and partnership staff.

How to use this exemplar to improve practice

This exemplar could be used by practitioners seeking to develop multi-agency programmes and engage families in learning. The paperwork, links and reflective questions will give you an insight into how a family learning project can be developed, implemented and sustained. It will invite you to consider the impact of your own approach to engaging and involving families in learning.

These reflective questions will support you to consider your own approach to engaging and supporting children and their families through transition:

  • How effectively do we use current, available data about levels of poverty in our community to help us target our interventions?
  • To what extent do staff understand Getting it right for every child (GIRFEC), the wellbeing indicators and how these can have a positive impact on children and families?
  • How effectively do we monitor programmes?
  • What evidence do we have that family learning is improving the life chances of the families involved?
  • Are outcomes for children improving as a result of their participation in family learning? How do we know this?