Council “tried to get round new legislation on school closures”

BY MICHAEL RUSSELL
michael.russell@whfp.co.uk

Highland Council this week refused to respond to allegations made by parents in north Skye about the timing of a consultation into the closure of three primary schools.

The consultation, originally scheduled to begin this month, was brought forward by the council to June without explaining the reasons behind the change. New legislation designed to make it more difficult to shut rural schools came into force on 1st August.

Clare Stones, who lives in Ullinish and has three children who are due to attend Struan Primary School over the next few years, said she was “gravely concerned” by the council’s attitude to the communiuties affected. Schools at Struan, Edinbane and Knockbreck have been earmarked for closure, while the plans include the construction of a new school at Dunvegan

Ms Stones added: “It appears highly suspicious to both myself and many others that the council brought forward its consultation on the closure of Struan, Edinbane and Knocbreck primary schools. We could be forgiven for assuming that the only reason for this is so the council will not have to comply with the new and improved Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014. I believe the council are operating in a very devious and underhand manner. Everybody knows this whole proposal is nothing to do with providing the best for our children, it is about saving money. If it were about what is best for our children, the council would listen to us as parents.

“Had they carried out the consultation within its original timescales, the council would have had to presume against closing rural schools. They would also have to give consideration to the effects of such actions on the community and give valid reasons why our children would get a better education. As itstands, the council cannot give any good reason for closing the schools.”

She added: “Larger or newly-built schools not guarantee our children will get an improved education. Extra travel will mean they are too tired to learn anyway. The council needs to take a long hard look at the demographics of Skye. They should be doing all they can to encourage young people to stay on the island and not move away.

“If the council insists on closing what few facilities we have, they risk families deciding to leave and set up home elsewhere. That would be disastrous for the Isle of Skye and not encourage a sustainable community.”

Edinbane parent council member Tim Spencer wondered why the council “rather abruptly” brought forward their consultation.

He added: “The council are as far as we know completely within the law in this regard, but it does seem rather perverse and undemocratic that they can avoid the new legislation in this way. If indeed they have a genuine desire to consult according to the new legislation it is puzzling why many required elements are missing from the council’s exercise.”

The council’s proposals are to be considered by the adult and children’s services committee on 12th November and by the full council the following month.

Despite repeated requests for a response to the allegations, the council refused to comment.