A Scottish island’s school finally found a Gaelic teacher after a six month search – only for their efforts to be thwarted by the Home Office denying her a visa.
The post at Bunessan Primary, on the Isle of Mull, did not attract any Scottish applicants but a Gaelic-speaking Canadian teacher eventually came forward.
Sine Halfpenny, from Antigonish, Nova Scotia, agreed to move continent to take the post, but was barred by Home Office officials on the grounds she “failed to meet the required points” required for a visa.
The Scottish Government has pushed for more Gaelic education in schools, but despite the difficulties in recruitment, Gaelic teachers do not feature on the Home Office’s Tier 2 Shortage Occupation List which allows visa applications from overseas to be fast tracked.
Bunessan Primary started looking for a teacher in June this year and after waiting half a year for a suitable applicant, staff were delighted when Ms Halfpenny applied for the job.
As well as speaking Gaelic, Ms Halfpenny studied in Scotland and was professionally qualified to teach in Scottish schools.
Argyll and Bute MSP Michael Russell has said the rejection is “ludicrous”, as he urged officials to review their decision. “The parents have done a lot of hard work to get a Gaelic unit established,” Mr Russell said.
He blamed an “obsession with keeping migration numbers down” for the rejecting the visa application.
“I have asked the Scottish Government to support the council in redoubling its efforts to get this sorted for the good of the children and community on Mull,” Mr Russell said.
“I hope the UK Government will show some Christmas spirit and withdraw its objection now.”
Jennifer Johnson, who has four children at the schools, said that the Home Office’s rejection of Ms Halfpenny’s visa means that the “very existence of Gaelic medium unit will be called into question”.
She said: “It felt like a miracle when we were given approval for Gaelic education at our school and when we received an application from a suitably-qualified teacher. “It seemed as though we’d made it and we just needed to get over this last hurdle.
“We can’t see any logical reason why Sine should not be given a visa – she is keen to fill a position that no-one in the country has applied to do.
A Home Office spokeswoman said: “All visa applications are considered in line with immigration rules and on the evidence provided.
“Ms Halfpenny’s visa was refused as she did not submit a certificate of sponsorship. “Her sponsor’s application, for a restricted certificate of sponsorship, was rejected as it failed to meet the required points.”