Dumfries and Galloway councillors are being urged to back an emergency motion that will pause plans to mothball a community high school.

If the council's plan to mothball – or temporarily close – Dalry Secondary School is successful, some students will face a three-hour round trip to Castle Douglas High School.

Following a contentious public consultation – after which stakeholders complained that the council did not present all of the options up for consideration or consider the community's responses – Dumfries and Galloway Council is considering mothballing Dalry Secondary School, despite admittedly having no formal policy for mothballing secondary schools.

The council has a mothballing policy for primary schools, but a spokesperson said that it follows the guidance in the Schools (Consultation) (Scotland) Act 2010 for secondary schools.

According to the act, mothballing is only allowed in "very restricted circumstances". It adds that it should only lead to a temporary closure "because there is a reasonable prospect that the number of pupils in the area will increase such that it should be re-opened in the future."

The act also explicitly states that mothballing cannot be used to sidestep the strict procedures for closing a school permanently. Councils are also required to notify parents and community members "as early as possible" when a school is being considered for mothballing.

The parents and campaigners have previously expressed concerns that mothballing Dalry is an attempted "closure by stealth", and that they have not been given enough time to prepare for the potential change.

To buy time for the school, councillors Dougie Campbell and Andy McFarlane have submitted an emergency motion to the council.

Read more: Campaigners call for council to delay decision on mothballing local school

Due to be heard at the full council meeting on Thursday, the motion calls for an "immediate cessation of secondary school mothballing, including Dalry Secondary School, for a period agreed by Full Council, and for community impact assessment and alternative education options to be embedded in a secondary school mothballing policy."

The Herald: Cllrs Campbell and McFarlane added that mothballing can have “critically damaging consequences for equitable education provision in rural communities.”

Any decision needs to be backed by an official procedure, they added, which includes impact statements and input from all stakeholders.

To illustrate the dilemma that students and parents will face if Dalry closes, even temporarily, supporters held a demonstration last week.

They carried a group that included local councillors and media on a round trip between Knockengorroch – the most northerly area in the Dalry catchment area – and Castle Douglas High School, where students will be transferred if Dalry closes.

Although navigation apps and the council estimate the trip to take roughly 45 minutes, travellers on the day timed it to one-and-a-half hours, thanks in part to single-track roads and tight corners along parts of the route.

And that still did not account for all of the stops that the bus would normally make to pick up students on a regular school run, said a spokesperson for the local parent council.

Tuesday's trip was meant to raise the profile of the community's concerns about the council's mothballing plans. When the council sent out an "engagement survey" over the winter holiday period, parents were presented with five options: 

  1. No change to school operations
  2. Change Dalry to a school only for S1 and S2 pupils
  3. Creating a school for pupils from nursery to S2
  4. Closing the secondary school
  5. Creating an "all-through" school for pupils from nursery to S4

The fifth and final option was added on at the parents' request and was the only one to win majority support.

Despite the results of the survey in January, it became clear that the council's preferred course of action was to mothball Dalry Secondary School, despite this not being presented as an option to stakeholders.

Read more: 'We're an irritation': Fury as parents say council 'closing rural school by stealth'

When the council meets this week, supporters of the mothballing plan will be met with strong opposition from the community and the councillors supporting them.

Linda Dorward, Scottish Labour councillor for Lochar, said that the bus trip was “extremely insightful” and illustrated the amount of time that students will lose every day in the trip to Castle Douglas.

She said that the council needs to seriously consider all of the outcomes and exhaust the alternatives before deciding to close a rural school, even temporarily.

“The Council does not yet have a mothballing policy for secondary schools and intends to bring one to the Education Committee in May.

“I would challenge these timescales, as any policy requires to go through a period of public consultation, which may take some time to organise.

“This is a big decision for Dumfries with serious ramifications for the area. Minds may be better utilised looking at how we can keep Dalry Secondary open.”

Read more: A day with the communities fighting to save their school

She added that Dumfries and Galloway communities suffer the effects of living in a "Borders Bubble". 

"Dumfries and Galloway does not get the same coverage of its depopulation crisis as the Highlands or Comhairle nan Eilean Siar. I believe we exist in a ‘Borders Bubble’ which means the rest of Scotland is in the dark when it comes to our problematic issues.

"In contrast, issues with depopulation, roads, housing, investment in the Highlands are well trailed as they benefit from media coverage."

John Denerley, Scottish Conservative and Unionist councillor in the Dee and Glenkens Ward, was also on the bus. He said that the effort and commitment from the community members to illustrate their children’s situation was itself a case for continuing education at Dalry.

“This initiative exemplified our ward's remarkable community spirit and highlighted the significance of such endeavours in ensuring accessibility and connectivity for all.

“I firmly believe Dalry offers something extraordinary: a collection of communities bound together by shared values and a robust sense of community spirit.

“Its small school rural setting cultivates a sense of security and belonging, providing students with a nurturing environment where they can academically and personally flourish.”

A spokesperson for Dumfries and Galloway Council said that the estimated travel times for the students are not out of the ordinary.

"Given our rurality, it is not uncommon for learners to face journey times of around an hour to get to and from secondary school. This is still well below some of our comparator local authorities, where some learners face journey times of greater than one and a half hours to get to and from their school base.

"We will work with the parents, carers and young people to determine the most effective and efficient way for young people to reach their school base."

The spokesperson added that the council has consulted with community members on the proposals.

"Our Council has been open and transparent with the school and wider Dalry community over the futureproofing of the education and learning experience to children and young people in the school and catchment area. We have held multiple community meetings and carried out extensive engagement.

"We have, and will continue to, put the learning needs and overall education experience of these young people at the forefront of our thoughts and plans."