EFFORTS to encourage the repopulation of rural areas have been called into question after a bizarre council schools policy came to light.

A £4 million extension has recently been completed at Cromarty Primary school, on the Black Isle. However, if any more pupils came to the catchment area they would have to be bussed elsewhere. 

Despite having a capacity for 75 pupils, and a current roll of just 46, the school has been declared full as there are only two teachers.

Highland Council policy states that if a school roll goes above the number of teachers allocated to pupils, any additional children would have to be accommodated in neighbouring schools rather than employing another teacher. 

The current number of teachers allocated to the school is based on the last census.

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Labour MSP Rhoda Grant has now joined parents and councillors in calling the situation “illogical” and said there should be more funding for education provided to local authorities to ensure schools in rural areas can accommodate extra pupils.

The Highlands and Islands MSP said: “This is a further example of how council budget cuts are having a direct impact on our young people and how they’re educated. On this specific issue, this decision makes no sense when you consider the cost of bussing children to nearby schools. We need to ensure local government is funded properly to provide adequate teacher numbers to educate our children.”

Highland Council said that all its schools were “currently operating with the correct pupil-teacher ratio that our policy requires”.

A spokesman said: “We now allocate all school staff fairly according to the actual school roll on census day which is national practice in both rural and urban areas across Scotland and is how schools are funded nationally. 

“Our children in Highland benefit overall as our pupil-teacher ratio is well below the national average and is in the top quartile across Scotland.”

Members of the school parent council have branded the situation “madness and illogical” and have called for a third teacher to be employed at Cromarty to enable the school to be used to its full capacity. They also say the council policy goes against rural population growth, rather than supporting it – one of Highland Council’s stated aims. 

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Denis Torley of the parent council said: “We used to have a school roll of 99 when I moved here 20 years ago. Now it is down to 47. 

“We want to encourage people to come but who is going to move to a town where you have to send your children to the next town to go to school? 

“Watching your children being bussed past new but empty classrooms to a school outwith your new community is hardly a welcoming prospect for young families considering relocating here.”