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Community loses school at its heart as register falls to zero

IT has been the hub of a small Argyll community for 128 years but now a school that opened in the year that Karl Benz patented the first petrol-driven motor engine is set to close - because there are no more children.

Archattan Primary, in Argyll, has been 'mothballed' after 128 after its roll fell to zero.
Archattan Primary, in Argyll, has been 'mothballed' after 128 after its roll fell to zero.

There are currently only four pupils at the two-classroom Ardchattan Primary school 13 miles east of Oban.

Three of them are currently in primary seven and there are no pupils registered to attend when the next school year begins in August.

As a result, Argyll and Bute Council has moved to mothball the school, which is the only public building in the locality and so hosts events such as Burns' suppers and Christmas parties.

And, with no children of pre-school age in its catchment area registered to attend, Ardchattan Primary may close permanently if no new pupils arrive within the next two years.

Headteacher Jacqui Mclarty and seven part-time staff also face uncertain futures, although the council said it was "confident" that new roles would be found for them elsewhere in the authority's area.

When the school opened in 1886, on the shores of Loch Etive, it had a roll of 14. The number rose to 50 within five years and in 1940 it hit 100 - including 40 Second World War evacuees.

Reverend Jeff McCormick, a Church of Scotland minister for Ardchattan parish, has been the school chaplain for three decades and remembers when there were 25 children on the books.

However, in recent years he said the school had been unable to put on a nativity play as there had not been enough pupils to play Mary, Joseph, three wise men and a donkey. He said the once-thriving school's demise had been the result of demographic and economic changes in the area, which was now home to fewer families young enough to have primary school-age children.

"I've known the school and been involved for a long time and it's always been a happy, positive place but there just aren't the children in the immediate area because society's changed," he said.

"I find it quite sad," he said. "I'd be down there most weeks during term-time and I've seen the numbers reduce.

"There's no doubt it will be missed - not least the present headteacher, who has made such a positive contribution to the community and has done various things that have brought people together."

Rev McCormick said that there had once been plenty of work at a nearby quarry, but as demand declined, younger families had left for larger population centres.

He added: "The quarry was famous for providing granite and cobbles all over Scotland. It was incredibly labour-intensive, but gradually the requirement for labour there has fallen away.

"Folks have grown up and left, other people who have moved in don't have children and the small number who do are going elsewhere [to other schools] for a whole lot of different reasons. There might be eight children in the catchment area, so even if they all went there, it's still going to be a very small school."

There are 136 people living in the area that includes the primary. The average age is 43 for females and 46 for males - above the national average.

If a single school-age pupil moves into the catchment area and applies to attend Ardchattan within the next two years, it will reopen. If not, the council will consult on its future.

Sandy Longmuir, chairman of the Rural Schools Network, said mothballing the school rather than closing it was the "responsible thing to do".

"You can't keep it open for no children," he said. "Argyll is a beautiful area to live and should be somewhere people want to go, but development opportunities haven't been taken as well as they have in areas like Perth and Kinross or Highland."

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Education

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