A casting vote by Comhairle Convener Norman A Macdonald has signalled the end of the road for Lionel School secondary department after a tied vote.
Fifteen councillors voted to close the S1/2 unit later this year while 15 supported its retention.
With last week’s Education Committee voting 9-6 in favour of closure, an amendment to this recommendation was needed to allow a debate but none was received in time for tonight’s meeting.
Ness councillor Kenny Macleod put forward an Amendment to suspend Standing Orders to allow a debate to take place on his original amendment from last week’s Committee that the Secondary department be retained. Councillors agreed and a debate was held leading to a tied vote.
His amendment was seconded by Stornoway councillor Charlie Nicolson.
The Comhairle’s decision to close the school will now need approval from Scottish Ministers.
In putting forward the case for the discontinuation of Lionel S1/2 department, Chair of the Education and Children’s Services Committee, Catriona Stewart said there were clear educational benefits of the move which were also backed up by a report by HMIe.
She said she had spoken to many parents recently who had not felt able to make their views on the secondary’s future public and she claimed that misinformation on the issue had become widespread.
Cllr Kenny Macleod said it was his duty to represent the views of his community which were firmly in favour of retaining the secondary. He said removal of the headteacher had created uncertainty which could have affected the school roll leading to some parents putting in placing requests to send their children to the Nicolson Institute in S1.
In seconding him Cllr Charlie Nicolson gave a passionate speech to the committee stressing that the community and its young people wanted to retain the school.
“This is the community and the young people pleading for their school, are we listening councillors?” he asked.
He drew attention to the UN Convention of the right of children’s views to be heard and listened to.
“The way you vote tonight will have no bearing on your life or mine but will have a huge bearing on the community of Ness forever,” he said. He received a round of applause from parents for his comments.
Ness councillor John Mackay said he was obliged to support his community and that the parents believed the drive behind the plans for closure was for financial not educational reasons. He added: “They fear the next plan will be to close the primary because there is a new school in Barvas.” Chair of Education Catriona Stewart said, however, this was not being looked at.
Many former teachers among the councillors gave support to the closure of the school including Cllr Angus McCormack.
Cllr McCormack said the decision should be made on what was best for pupils and not for parents and that there were clear benefits to the move to the Nicolson Institute in S1 rather than S3. He said from his experience there were more problems when transition took place at S3.
In supporting retention of the school Cllr Iain Morrison said: “I’m scared that if Lionel secondary closes that’s it. it will never re-open.” He referred to a Comhairle decision many years ago to close the Lews Castle School and said it was the ‘biggest mistake he ever made’ when he supported that move.
Cllr Norman Macleod said his concern about the Lionel Secondary closure was due to transportation of pupils and the fact that more pupils would be on early bus journeys in the winter on roads which were not Priority 1 on the Gritting Policy. He said this was the case in his own ward in Point.
Leader Angus Campbell said his duty as a councillor was to do the best for pupils in the Western Isles. He pointed out that 75 per cent of Lionel parents had made the decision themselves to move their children to the Nicolson Institute.
“It’s not a town school,” he said. “It’s a Lewis school that services all communities.”
He said the issue of transportation was a ‘difficult one’ but said parents who had already decided to send their children to the Nicolson Institute at S1 were allowing their children to make those journeys. He said he was ‘surprised’ to hear gritting being brought up in the debate and said: “When we have bad weather its not just Priority 1 that we grit, we grit all roads.”
He added: “I’m absolutely convinced that the best form of education is from the S1 to S6 set up in the Nicolson.”
Following a lengthy debate and vote, it came down to the casting vote of Convener Norman A Macdonald who voted to close the school as was recommended to the full Comhairle by the Education and Children’s Services Committee last week.
Councillors who voted to close Lionel Secondary:
Convenor Norman A Macdonald
Leader Angus Campbell
Chair of Education Catriona Stewart
Cllr David Blaney
Cllr Zena Stewart
Cllr Archie K Campbell
Cllr Uisdean Robertson
Cllr Neil Beaton
Cllr Angus Morrison
Cllr Alasdair Macleod
Cllr Angus McCormack
Cllr Roddie Mackay
Cllr Iain Mackenzie
Cllr Donald Crichton
Cllr Ronnie Mackinnon
Councillors who voted to retain Lionel Secondary:
Cllr Kenneth Macleod
Cllr Charlie Nicolson
Cllr John Mackay
Cllr Catherine Macdonald
Cllr Donald Manford
Cllr Donnie Steele
Cllr Philip McLean
Cllr DJ Macrae
Cllr Donald Macleod
Cllr Norman Macleod
Cllr Rae Mackenzie
Cllr Iain Morrison
Cllr Gordon Murray
Cllr John A Maciver
Cllr Iain Macaulay