Childcare concerns raised in North Uist

editorial image

Concerns have been raised about the future of childcare in North Uist with new school plans including only provision for three to five year olds.

Some have expressed concern about the effect this could have on working parents on the island if there was no alternative childcare facility.

A formal consultation report on the closing of Lochmaddy, Carinish and Paible Schools was published this month with the proposal being to build a new school on the current site of Paible School which would open in August 2015.

The Comhairle has already held public meetings in the affected communities and also met with staff and pupils of all three schools.

The community has given their support to the idea of a new school but there are some concerns about the details.

The report states: “Concern has been expressed that the new school proposal recommends providing statutory pre-school provision, and not the extended service encompassing 0-three years childcare, before and after school, and during school holidays as is currently available.

“There is also concern that if the Comhairle provide nursery provision at the proposed new school, this would have a detrimental effect on the business of Saoghal Beag nursery.”

In response the council has said that birth to three years provision is not a statutory requirement and so had not been included in the proposal document.

It further states: “Urachadh Uibhist through the Saoghal Beag Nursery is the major provider of childcare and early years provision in North Uist.

“However the viability of this service has been the subject of ongoing discussion with the provider.

“On this basis Urachadh Uibhist has raised with the authority proposals for a variation to provision in North Uist including a Public service Partnership model, direct management of childcare and pre-school services within the new school or a proposal whereby pre-school provision is provided within the new school and childcare provision at the existing Saoghal Beag facility.”

Other issues raised were to do with transport times with an increase journey duration for some pupils with a new school at Paible.

The Comhairle say they accept that travel from Grimsay could mean a journey which will be in the upper limits of the Comhairle policy, which says all journeys for primary pupils should be less than 40 minutes.

However they say they are due to look at solutions in the tendering for new bus service contracts from April 2015 which would reduce journey times by using mini buses, or taxis to take pupils to pick up points, so that travel would be as direct as possible.

Consultation with pupils at Lochmaddy, Carnish and Paible was generally very positive although some staff were concerned about job security with the three schools joining into one.

The Comhairle state in their response that there will be a reduction in staff but they are committed to a ‘no-redundancy situation’.

It is recommended that education at Carinish, Paible and Lochmaddy be discontinued from June 26th 2015 and that a new school be built at the existing school site at Paible with a planned opening of August 13th 2015.

The catchment areas of the new school would be extended to include the current areas for all three school and that the new school include provision for statutory pre-school education.