Assurances that Skye schools will be in line for investment

The campaign to improve facilities in Broadford has lasted several years. Pic, Willie Urquhart

Broadford and Dunvegan primary schools are “key school investment priorities” and will be included in a future funding bid to the Scottish Government, Highland Council has confirmed.

The council’s interim director of care and learning Sandra Campbell gave the assurances in a letter to area MSP Kate Forbes, which was made public today (Tuesday).

Ms Forbes, local councillor John Finlayson and Broadford primary’s parent council all welcomed the news, which they said represents progress in a long-running campaign for school improvements.

Last November the Scottish Government committed £1 billion for rebuilding and refurbishing schools, although parents know that funding will not be made available until at least 2021.

Parents in Broadford and Dunvegan are pinning their hopes on securing a share of the funds through the next stage of the ‘Schools for the Future’ programme – as Highland Council have repeatedly said their own current capital budget cannot alone cover the necessary work.

Last year footage emerged of water pouring into Dunvegan Primary, while in Broadford there have been numerous complaints that the school is damp, too small, and lacks basic facilities.

Due to safety concerns Broadford pupils are not allowed to drink from the school’s water fountains and taps, while a survey by parents found that around a third of local children had experienced breathing problems since starting their education.

Kate Forbes said the council had adopted a ‘refreshing new approach’ to the difficulties.

The Skye MSP said: “I’ve met with the new chief executive of Highland Council and her proactive approach to school buildings in Broadford and Dunvegan is refreshing.

“Within a matter of weeks of her appointment, I met to press home the importance of prioritising new school buildings for Broadford and Dunvegan.

“I’m grateful that the interim director of care and learning has confirmed that the council has identified Broadford and Dunvegan primary schools as key priorities and they have been progressing discussions with local communities about options.

“It is very important that, since the Scottish Government announced an additional £1billion for the schools programme, that plans progress so that the building projects are shovel-ready when the council bids for Scottish Government schools funding.

Deputy First Minister John Swinney and MSP Kate Forbes on a visit to Broadford last year where they met community council chair Hamish Fraser, local councillor John Finlayson and parents Rosie Woodhouse and Norma Morrison

“There is a lot of work to be done, but it is excellent news that the council appears to have a plan, it recognises the importance of Broadford and Dunvegan Primary Schools and finally we’re moving in the right direction.”

Skye councillor John Finlayson, who chairs the care, learning and housing committee, pledged to ask if there is scope to bring forward some funding to make an early start on the two schools.

He added: “A major ingredient in terms of bringing these badly needed projects to fruition will be joined up working and a shared vision.

“The community, staff, parents, Highland Council officers and our MSP have all worked together to plan ahead to ensure that Broadford and Dunvegan receive 21st century schools that provide pupils with a 21st century learning environment.”

Ms Forbes, meanwhile, re-iterated her criticism that the council had previously not asked the Scottish Government for funds to redevelop either Broadford or Dunvegan.

Those claims had been branded misleading by the former chairman of the local authority’s education committee Andrew Baxter, who said Broadford missed out because the Scottish Government’s scheme to fund schools had favoured urban areas.

To date the ‘schools for the future’ initiative has given Highland Council £63 million, which was spent on three Inverness schools, on Alness Academy and on a joint primary, secondary and community campus at Wick.

In Broadford the council and local groups have already identified a site, and drawn up initial plans for a school and community hub. The scheme could also incorporate new housing, and potentially a new community hall – with the aspiration being for shovels to hit the ground as soon as the estimated £10 million required becomes available.

Dunvegan parent council chairman Elgar Finlay highlighting the poor conditions at the school. Pic, Willie Urquhart

In Dunvegan parents have been told that existing grants – specifically for Gaelic and early years projects – could help begin the first phase of development on the site of the football pitch beside the current school campus.

Should that proceed it would then be up to the ‘schools for the future’ fund to finish off the job.

Broadford Parent Council chairperson Norma Morrison said: “We warmly welcome the positive dialogue between Kate Forbes and the council’s CEO.

“It has been clear for many years that the only option for Broadford is a new build and the community is working very hard to achieve this in partnership with Highland Council. We were delighted when John Swinney visited the school in 2018 and saw at first hand the appalling conditions in which our children are being educated and in which staff are working.”