Councillors do not support Lionel Secondary retention

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The fight continues to save the secondary department of Lionel School despite members of the Comhairle’s Education and Children’s Services Committee voting in favour of its closure this week.

A proposal to close the S1/2 department was put to councillors this afternoon and they voted 9-6 in favour of the plan.

Ness Councillor Kenny Macleod put forward an amendment to the proposal calling for S1/2 provision to be retained and this was seconded by Stornoway South member Charlie Nicolson.

Cllr Macleod said: “I would be failing in my duty if I supported this. The overwhelming feeling from the community is to fight for the retention of secondary education at Lionel School.”

He said the removal of the headteacher post at the school had caused uncertainty but they were confident of a healthy roll for the secondary unit in future years if it was retained.

Supporting Cllr Macleod, Cllr Nicolson said the community should be supported in their view that the continuation of secondary education at Lionel was best for their children.

He added: “ We talk about centralisation in Edinburgh and Glasgow but we are pretty hypocritical here when we are trying to centralise everything in Stornoway.”

He also pointed out that Junior Secondary schools were still open in Orkney and Shetland and referred to a previous school closure in his own ward:

“As a councillor I made a mistake because I listened to the department in regards to Sandwickhill. I was told that housing wouldn’t be there till 2017 and that Stornoway Primary would be enhanced, I listened and now I’m finding that it was the wrong decision.”

In putting forward the motion to close the departmment Cllr Catriona Stewart said there were important educational benefits in pupils moving to the Nicolson Institute from S1. This was also backed up by a report by HMIe. She also said there was an opportunity for more curricular and extra-curricular activities. She said larger peer groups were also a benefit and that those requiring additional support needs would have access more high quality resources and a great staff cohort meant a bigger range of expertise. There were also more options to learn through the medium of Gaelic, she said.

The motion was supported by South Uist councillor David Blaney.

Leader of the Comhairle Angus Campbell said: “I do not regret a single one of them (school closure decisions) and that includes things that happened in my own ward. If you ask pupils and parents if they want to go back I very much doubt you would get many saying that.”

He added: “The education system in the Western Isles was stuck in the mud because councillors didn’t have the energy to stand up and do what was best for the Western Isles.

He said that councillors also had a duty to not always ‘listen to the noise, but to be brave’ and that leadership was also a part of being a councillor.

”Our main drive is to increase educational attainment and this is a step in that direction,” he concluded.

Parents from Lionel attended Tuesday’s meeting in the Comhairle chambers. Afterwards they said they were disappointed but will continue campaigning, hoping the outcome will be different at full council next week.

Johanna Furey, who was born and brought up in Ness, said she and her family had moved home from Edinburgh because they were attracted to the way of life offered in the North Lewis community.

Her children attend Lionel School and she hoped efforts to uphold the tradition and heritage of the area would continue but that she would be very sad to see the secondary department close.

Cllr Kenny Macleod plans to submit another amendment to full council next week which will mean more debate and a vote on this subject.

If the closure is approved by the full Comhairle, it would still have to be considered by Scottish Ministers.

The consultation process attracted more than 500 responses all against the proposal.

Education Committee member who voted to close Lionel Secondary department: Cllr Catriona Stewart, Cllr David Blaney, Cllr Angus Campbell, Cllr Norman A MacDonald, Cllr Archie K Campbell, Cllr Zena Stewart, Cllr Angus Morrison, Cllr Angus McCormack and Cllr Roddie Mackay.

Committee members who supported the Amendment to retain the school: Cllr Kenny Macleod, Cllr Charlie Nicolson, Cllr Donnie Steele, Cllr Gordon Murray, Cllr Philip McLean, Cllr Iain Morrison (who attended the meeting via Facetime as he is currently in hospital).