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Parents of Duror Primary School pupils say the blame falls ‘squarely on the shoulders of Highland Council’ after the school received a damning inspection report.
Some parents have even threatened to pull their children out of the school if the council fails to improve the situation.
Last Monday, August 26, the school’s parent council held a public meeting with Lochaber MSP Kate Forbes to discuss the report ahead of its publication the next day. To their surprise, ‘almost the entire village’ turned up to vent their anger at what some see as a ‘death by cuts’ closure of the school.
Parent Sara McNeill said the situation is down to a lack of staff support and resources. She fears the school is facing a ‘slow, excruciatingly painful death’ if problems persist.
‘We can’t expect chronically underfunded schools to perform well on inspection,’ added Mrs McNeill. ‘If Highland Council was a commercial company, it would be unable to function in its current state.’
In the report, the inspector said learning, teaching and assessment in the school was ‘weak’ and reported ‘unsatisfactory’ levels of attainment in literacy and numeracy. In particular, he noted the ‘very high turnover in staff’ was having a negative impact on teaching quality.
Since the turn of the year, the sole P2 to P7 composite class has been taught by eight different teachers.
The school, which had nine pupils at the time of the inspection, is part of a South Lochaber cluster, along with Glencoe and St Bride’s, with one head teacher responsible for all three.
In a public statement, the parent council said Highland Council imposed changes ‘have had a terrible impact’ leading to a ‘loss of confidence’ in its ability to run the school.
The parent council’s concerns go beyond those highlighted in the inspection report. Transport provision for physical education, which has to be held in Duror Hall as the school is too small, has been cut by the council. Meanwhile, school lunches narrowly escaped the chop thanks to a late intervention from Kate Forbes.
Fears over pupil safety, teaching support and play-time supervision have also manifested since pupil support assistant (PSA) staff and hours were slashed earlier this year.
‘Two weeks ago we warned the council that if there was no PSA support at the start of term, there would be no pupils there either,’ continued Mrs McNeill. ‘And miraculously, the PSA support was there full-time all week.’
Despite repeated attempts to contact council leaders to express their concerns, the parent council has not yet received a response.
Kate Forbes said she is ‘very disappointed’ in the way Duror pupils and parents have been treated by Highland Council and has vowed to ‘fight their corner’.
Ms Forbes said: ‘At the beginning of the summer holiday, they wrote to the council’s chief executive pleading for an improvement in the coming year. To date, I do not believe they’ve had the courtesy of a reply. I have written four times in that time to the chief executive also asking for a reply and I am still to get one. Highland Council have had the summer months to advertise for and recruit a teacher, so why is the advert only going out after the new term has started?
‘Operational responsibility for education provision – recruiting teachers and engaging with parents – rests entirely with Highland Council. The parents are rightly outraged and are entitled to feel angry by the way in which this has been managed. These children deserve continuity of education and the parents deserve a response to their letters.’
Ms Forbes said she has spoken to the leader of Highland Council, Margaret Davidson, about the matter.
A Highland Council spokesperson said: ‘The Highland Council recognises the strengths of the school and areas identified for development, as noted in the report published by Education Scotland on Duror Primary School.
‘The council has fully supported the school and will continue to do so through the appointment of an experienced head teacher to take forward the recommendations of the report.’