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In the wake of pleas from parents scattered across remote rural communities on Lochaber’s peninsulas, Highland Council has confirmed it has ditched plans to alter school bandings for session 2022-23 – a move that would have seen teacher hours cut.
The local authority’s area education and learning manager (West), Don Esson, confirmed the decision recently to local MSP Kate Forbes.
It comes after parents of pupils at schools serving Strontian, Lochaline, Ardgour and Kilchoan voiced their concerns that proposals to remove the ‘half-teacher’ format, would have a devastating impact on small rural schools in Lochaber.
Highland Council had implemented a change to the staff/pupil ratio in its most recent budget which would have seen a reduction in the number of teachers in schools of 16-19 pupils to one – currently the allocation is one and-a-half.
Back in May, Ms Forbes told Mr Esson: ‘As you will be well aware, the needs of remote Highland schools are unique and often do not correspond with national demands and expectations.
‘The schools on the Ardnamurchan peninsula are uniquely connected and as many parents have pointed out, the proposal does not take into consideration the current number of pupils enrolled in local nurseries.
‘Locally, I am told that in Strontian alone, of the 14 pupils currently enrolled in nursery, nine will be attending Strontian Primary in 2023/24.
‘It would therefore seem impractical to reduce the number of staff only to have to potentially recruit the following year. Additionally, such measures do not seem to be conducive to attracting staff to an area that has been often difficult to find and retain teaching staff.’
As well as the potential impact that being in a composite P1-P7 class could have on their children’s education, parents and some local teachers were also disappointed, claiming that this information about the council’s plans was not clearly communicated to them.
‘Instead, I am told it was discovered by a parent who had taken the time to read through the entire budget document. Given the impact to their children’s education and the livelihoods of local teachers, they cannot understand why parents and staff were not directly informed of the proposal,’ Ms Forbes told Mr Esson.
Ardgour Community Council said it was ‘very pleased’ the council has removed the budget proposal to change teacher/pupil ratios in small schools.
A spokesperson told us: ‘The change had been included without consultation and would have negatively affected small, rural schools, including Ardgour Primary.
‘We believe the additional ‘half-teacher’ provides stability for teaching staff and improves educational outcomes for the children in our community.’
And Ms Forbes told the Lochaber times this week: ‘After being contacted by parents from both Strontian and Ardgour, I raised their situation with the director of education at Highland Council.
‘I was pleased to receive confirmation from the council that staffing levels will remain the same for the coming session and hope this will provide continuity for the school.’
Asked for a comment, Highland Council had not responded before the Lochaber Times went to press.