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The Highland Line: Skye plan means change for West Highland schools

Apparently it was the Greek Philosopher Heraclitus of Ephesus ( 535 BC - 475 BC) who came up with the thought that "nothing endures but change".

It is variously quoted today as: "There is nothing permanent except change", or "The only constant is change" and "Change is the only constant" not to mention "Change alone is unchanging." You get the idea.

The Highland Line went in search of the source of this timeless truth this week on hearing the news that rural school closures were in the air yet again in the West Highlands. Has there ever been a year in the last three decades or so when an education authority somewhere in Scotland has not been embarking on a programme of school closures? Rationalising educational provision has been the euphemism normally deployed for closures and yet more change.

Effective birth control, Scottish weather and budgetary constraints have ensured that school rolls fell as buildings deteriorated, often making closures the only realistic way out for education authorities.

The Highland Council has now announced a statutory consultation for north Skye pre-school and primary education provision. In particular the education authority is proposing to close Dunvegan, Struan, Knockbreck and Edinbane primary schools. They would be replaced with a new amalgamated community primary school for north west Skye on a new site in Dunvegan.

There is also to be a statutory consultation in Strontian which will invite public comments on the council's proposals to replace the existing 38-pupil Strontian Primary School by relocating to Ardnamurchan High School, hence creating a 3-18 campus. Given that the high school is in Strontian, that would appear to make some kind of sense.

A single "modular" classroom with an office would be placed next to to the existing community/nursery wing of Ardnamurchan High School.

The existing pre-school/mother and toddler accommodation within the high school would be turned into a primary classroom and pre-school accommodation. Meanwhile an appropriate safe and secure play area for the primary and nursery pupils would created adjacent to this wing. Which all seems fairly reasonable.

Councillor Alasdair Christie, Chair of the Highland Council's Education, Children and Adult Services (ECAS) Committee said: "The Council is committed to providing 21st Century Education provision and associated first class community facilities in north Skye and Strontian. It is important that anyone with an interest in the new facilities proposed make their views known through the statutory consultations."

Some already have, because the plan to close four existing Skye primaries is controversial. Indeed some island parents have branded the consultation a token gesture. They accuse the council of deliberately "choking off" by mothballing the nurseries at Edinbane and Struan.

In most, but not all, school closure programmes parents will instinctively fight to save the school their children attend. Often the education authorities are accused of having an agenda which has involved secret meetings to finalise closure plans. Sometimes the parents win, more often they lose.

But despite what some Skye parents fear, the deal is not done and dusted. The primary schools are classified as "rural" schools for the purposes of the Scottish Government's Schools (Consultation) (Scotland) Act 2010 which seeks to protect rural schools from unjustified closure. It means that the education secretary Mike Russell could call in any closure decision. He would then have to satisfy himself that the likes of the educational and financial justification of the school closures outweighed primary pupils having to travel about 20 miles every day to Dunvegan. Edinbane Primary is 8.7 miles for the existing Dunvegan School; from Knockbreck it is 11.6; and Struan 8.8 miles.

Education officials have already warned councillors that the plan may fail. "This is the first statutory consultation proposal involving rural schools as defined by the Scottish Government. In that context, the consultation exercise might result in the identification of issues that lead to an alternative outcome to the consultation process."

But whether the Skye plan proceeds or not, change will continue to be visited on Scotland's schools. Just like the churches, they will close and become houses with "The Old School" postal addresses the only link to their educational past. The elderly alone still able to close their eyes and remember the days when they sat with a dozen other local children in a classroom, long since furnished according to the colour supplements with Farrow and Ball decor and a wood-burning stove in the hearth.

Change is indeed the only constant, but it does make you wonder what on earth was happening in Ephesus for Heraclitus to come up with it.

Contextual targeting label: 
Education

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