BY MICHAEL RUSSELL
Highland Council are refusing to confirm the status of a nursery in north Skye because they want to include it in proposals to close three local primary schools, it was alleged this week.
Parents from Edinbane were told at a meeting in Portree on Tuesday that their school is one of three primaries that could shut as part of the council’s Sustainable Schools Estate Review that started in Caithness in 2011. The other two Skye schools said to be under threat are Struan and Knockbreck.
Edinbane nursery has been mothballed since the end of the last academic year.
Frances Maclean, chairwoman of Edinbane Parent Council, maintains that the council intend to close the school and are just going through the motions of starting the review.
Edinburgh-based Caledonian Economics, who also oversaw Comhairle nan Eilean Siar’s consultation that led to the closure of three schools, have been hired by the council to conduct the review. They shared their “initial ideas” with parents and community councillors at the Portree meeting.
“Dave Thompson, our MSP , wrote to the education director Hugh Fraser in August asking him when the nursery was going to reopen and he still has not had a reply,” Ms Maclean said. “We suspect that the council have mothballed it so it can be included in the future consultation on the schools that they want to close.”
Mr Thompson’s office confirmed that no response had been received from Mr Fraser.
Mrs Maclean said the Scottish Government’s Learning Directorate had also given Mr Fraser two deadlines, both of which had expired, to clarify the status of the nursery.
The council refused to comment on Mr Fraser’s lack of communication with either the local MSP or the Scottish Government. A council spokesman did confirm, however, that Tuesday’s meeting was part of an “exploratory exercise” designed to share ideas on the future of all feeder primary schools associated with Portree High. The spokesman stressed that the study was not a statutory consultation on school closures.
Ms Maclean said the roll of Edinbane Primary stood at just six at the moment but was projected to rise to 16 over the next few years. There are currently three pupils in Knockbreck and nine in Struan.
“There is a huge amount of development in the Edinbane area right now,” she added. “There is a planning application for 21 houses, including five social housing units. There is the community company and the wind farm fund. All that is part and parcel of the long-term future of Edinbane.
“The council should be helping us through this time because young families do not want to move to an area where there is no school or nursery.”
In a press release circulated yesterday (Wednesday) the council said that schools in Raasay,
Elgol and Sleat would not be considered for closure because of geography.
“There are capacity issues at Kilmuir and other problems with the facilities,” the press release added. “There are very small numbers in the English-medium classes at Kilmuir and Staffin. We would like to explore ideas to adjust the boundaries to relieve the pressure, balance numbers and enhance the facilities.
“In north-west Skye, three of the four schools have small and potentially falling rolls. We think there is merit in exploring the possibility of creating a community hub in Dunvegan encompassing some or all of the four schools and other community facilities.
“Broadford – due to local initiatives involving the football pitch and the need to seek new accommodation for the Highland Council service point – further work will be undertaken with a view to improve the facilities at Broadford Primary School.”
At Tuesday’s meeting, Martin Finnigan and Frank Newall of Caledonian Economics said the process of closing the schools, if that’s what was decided, would be completed by 2015. A review of the feeder schools supplying Plockton High School will also be undertaken.