Nostalgia - paraffin mince and pupils without a room

The Sir E Scott School as it stands today.
The Sir E Scott School as it stands today.

Harris is rightly proud of the Sir E. Scott School. Opened in 2012 the state-of-the-art building provides education from nursery stage through to sixth year.

Of course the Tarbert building is not the first incarnation and while it has always been an educational asset its predecessors have been somewhat physically lacking.

The school takes its name from Sir Edward Scott, whose family owned the North Harris estate between 1867 and 1946.

Sir Edward gifted the land on which the original school was built.

It now has a wide catchment area, covering the whole of Harris for secondary education provision and North Harris, Scalpay and the Bays district in the east for primary and nursery provision.

Situated with stunning views looking out onto West Loch Tarbert, the school has custom-built facilities, and was one of six schools built in the Western Isles as part of the Western Isles Schools Project (WISP).

But for those who long for the “good old days” be careful what you wish for, nostalgia sometimes conceals some unpalateable truths.

In 1953, the ‘Sir E. Scott’ that was serving the community was summed up in one word – “appalling”.

That was how conditions were described at a meeting of the Harris education sub-committee.

“Children and parents are complaining about the inadequate facilities”, said Dr Wood, a parents’ repesentative on the committee.

The school, he said, had been built to hold 90 pupils. There had been some small additions to the accommodation, but it now held 223 pupils.

“I think the whole thing is ridiculous, he added.

“In the infant department there are three classes in the one room, and on Mondays and Wednesdays, one teacher is looking round for a place to teach in, and she usually finds herself in the school dining room.”

It was revealed that the last time there was an epidemic of sore throats and running ears, the whole school came down with it – the children could not escape infection.

“It was like the black hole of Calcutta.” Dr Wood added.

“It is a shame to take children from outlying districts and pack them in there when they have no chance whatever of being taught.”

Mrs Cameron, another parents’ repre­sentative, suggested temporary additional classrooms, of a new design which she described to the committee, could be provided quickly and cheaply to meet the emergency.

The present situa­tion was a downright shame, she said. The children were suffering.

“The school inspectors are appalled at the conditions,” she said.

“There is a roving class without a room.”

It was not one additional room, but the reconstruction of the whole school that was required said Councillor John MacCallum, and it should be carried out with a view to establishing, eventually, a senior secondary school in Tarbert.

He asked for the support of the committee in urging the county council to send the architect to Tarbert immediately to report on conditions in the school.

It was finally agreed to urge the emergency building of temporary classrooms and the eventual reconstruction of the whole school.

That would, indeed, come to pass. But while there were nomadic classes in the crowded corridors there was another issue.

The school meals being served at Tarbert also came under criticism.

Two letters from parents were read that claimed children had been upset by meals served in the school canteen.

Councillor Sandy Morrison suggested that part of the trouble occurred while food for the canteen was being trans­ported from Stornoway.

On occasion, potatoes and even mince, had been con­taminated with paraffin.

The committee’s clerk, Donald MacDonald, asked whether potatoes and mince could not be obtained in Tarbert.

Dr Wood confirmed there had been extensive community concern but he had visited the school and he was assured that the meals were now better.

The children got plenty, but, once or twice, some of the food “had been smelling”. This was easily explained – food was going off.

The school had to order its meat in advance for the week ahead, but had no refrigerator.

The committee unanimously agreed to recommend that Sir E. Scott be provided, promptly, with a fridge!