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Highland Council this week stands accused of riding roughshod over the concerns of parents in Kinlochleven, leaving the local primary school in what has been described as a ‘downward spiral’ due to a constant revolving door system of teacher appointments.
The situation has now been compounded with the shock news that popular overall head teacher of the whole three to 18 years campus that combines nursery, primary and secondary education, Rebecca Machin, is leaving her post to go back to classroom teaching in Invergordon.
Speaking to the Lochaber Times this week, local parent council chairperson, Pauline Byers, told us: ‘We as parents are extremely concerned about our children’s education in Kinlochleven Primary.
‘Over the past four years we have had five heads/acting heads in the primary school.
‘We lost our last acting head, who was promised the role of Deputy Primary Head under the new three to 18 campus, to another region, due to the total incompetence of Highland Council, leaving the school in a downward spiral since.
‘We have had serious problems in the school with a constant revolving door of staff.
‘We have expressed our concerns to Highland Council Education on numerous occasions, to be disregarded and pushed aside constantly.
‘We had staff off with stress, a period of time with no head/acting head at all, high school staff having to cover primary classes and a constant parade of supply teachers through our doors.
‘Due to Highland Council’s failures to provide adequate staffing, our Primary 6/7 class has had more than 10 different teachers in one year.
‘Parents are now in the position of Primary 7 pupils going into high school where we have serious concerns about their level of education.’
Asked to comment, local Highland councillor, Andrew Baxter (Fort William and Ardnamurchan), told us: ‘Once again, we see confusion in our primary schools ahead of the new school year.
‘The Highland Council system of staff allocation leads to uncertainty for our staff, which I know is having an impact on morale.
‘And there is even more uncertainty for our children, who continue to see a conveyor belt of teachers. After so many months of upheaval the one thing our children need is a familiar face and certainty when they return to school.
‘Yet, I am told not to ask questions about specific schools at council meetings.’
The area’s constituency MSP, Kate Forbes, said she was sorry to hear that Rebecca Machin was leaving. ‘She was very much the driving force behind a lot of the high school initiatives and I’m sure she’ll be sorely missed by colleagues, pupils and families in the area,’ said Ms Forbes.
‘Adapting to a three to 18 campus requires a period of transition, but that task is made much harder if there is a lack of continuity in the senior leadership team.
‘The primary parent council has told me there have been four depute heads in five years, so I hope Highland Council will look very seriously at what can be done so pupils can enjoy a time of stability. That is in everyone’s best interests.
‘I am raising this matter with the Highland Council and hope to secure answers for local parents who are understandably worried by these developments.’
Asked to comment on all the teacher changes at Kinlochleven, Highland Council only told us: ‘The head teacher [Ms Machin] has advised the council that she is leaving her post.
‘The depute head teacher will take up the post of acting head teacher and the Education Service will back-fill the acting depute head teacher post.’
Acting Head Teacher of Kinlochleven Primary is now Joseph Hannaway, while the new Depute Head Teacher for the primary is Loren Crowley.
But, gathered together with other irate parents and Councillor Baxter outside the primary school on Tuesday, Mrs Byers added that, this year, the primary school did not now have a teacher to cover the P 6/7 class, to work alongside the new deputy head, who was appointed in November.
‘Highland Council has had since November to advertise and fill the shared teaching vacancy and has not done so,’ she told us.
‘We are now in the position that we are starting a new term in August and the children will be going back to a temporary teacher with the position not even yet advertised and will not be until the start of the new school year in August and then it will be several weeks before interviewing can even commence.
‘Highland Council has now decided in its wisdom to remove the two fantastic teachers we have, who covered our Primary 1,2,3 and Primary 4,5, thus taking away any stability and continuity our children would have had going back into school in the new term.
‘This after all the upset and turmoil the children have already gone through this year and are going back into an already very different environment from what they know with new routines and perhaps isolated from their friends by distancing rules.
‘We have additional needs children who will be going to school with no one who understands their capabilities and needs and how to deal with situations when they arise.
‘Highland Council tells us that it struggles to attract staff because of housing issues and lack of work for partners and yet both teachers it is removing from the school are local and settled in the area with no housing or partner issues..
Mrs Byers said parents also wanted to know why the local authority was putting local Pupil Support Assistants (PSAs) through teacher training degrees – as it did with one of the teachers who now does not have a position – if it was not to grow the local workforce and stop the endless cycle of people leaving.
‘Mr Swinney keeps announcing the importance of education, sadly we do not feel that this is the case. We have been disregarded, and pushed aside by Highland Council,’ said Mrs Byers.
‘There does not seem to be any loyalty either to the staff nor the children in their care who are entitled to a decent education.
‘We feel that Highland Council has rode roughshod over the parents’ concerns at Kinlochleven Primary for the past two years.
‘The children deserve better and the teachers that have worked hard, especially over the last three months, deserve better.
‘Our community cannot afford to let the situation continue in this way. Someone has to take a look at our situation urgently and ensure the children are the priority and not Highland Council’s budget cuts.’